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Thursday, November 29, 2012
Winter meetings shopping list: Relievers

By Mark Saxon

Shortly after the Dodgers signed Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5 million contract last month, they declared League to be their closer entering 2013.

But how long will that last? League, a nine-year veteran, has been a closer for all of one full season. Plus, he has one little problem that makes you worry about him in the ninth inning: lefties. Last season, left-handed batters hit .292 against League (righties hit .208), continuing a career-long trend.

To be fair, League does one thing exceptionally well: keep the ball in play. He has allowed 33 home runs in his entire career, having faced more than 1,700 batters.

Regardless of whether League, Kenley Jansen or somebody else winds up as the Dodgers' closer, the team appears to be in pretty good shape in the bullpen.They've talked about trying to re-sign Randy Choate as the traditional, one-batter lefty specialist, and they hope Scott Elbert can be effective coming off elbow surgery. Paco Rodriguez looked like somebody ready to step into a major-league job and hold it, though he was just a few months from college when he arrived last August.

This is considered a deep market for relievers, so it seems fairly likely the Dodgers will sign at least one more veteran relief pitcher. Thanks in part to their deal with League, top-end relief pitchers are hauling in hefty three-year deals (Jonathan Broxton's $21 million deal with Cincinnati is the latest example). But there are also bargains to be had, such as the Angels' incentive-laden one-year deal with Ryan Madsen on Tuesday. Many of the second-tier relievers figure to sign after the big names, such as Rafael Soriano, move and that's where the Dodgers could find solutions.

We learned Tuesday that the Dodgers have yet to make an offer on any free agent starters and it's quite possible their biggest acquisition might come via trade (James Shields has been their No. 1 target all along). If they're able to trade for a starter, they could turn their attention to Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin, who -- at 25 -- is at least as important to their long-range plans as he is to 2013. Then, they could probably sign another reliever at a reasonable cost, easing the pressure to pile up innings on the starters and giving Don Mattingly plenty of late-inning matchup possibilities.

Nowadays, you can never have enough relief pitching, so the search never really ends.