Monday, December 31, 2012
Should Dodgers just hoard their pitching?
By Mark Saxon
I come back from vacation and am greeted with a distressingly thin stack of Dodgers rumors and transactions to pick over.
The Dodgers signed 32-year-old minor-league journeyman Dallas McPherson. I can still see him at his locker stall in Tempe, the baby-faced 24-year-old with the massive, upper-cut swing (and the back problems accompanying it), who was all but guaranteed the Angels' starting third base job when Troy Glaus departed.
He's a good reminder that nothing is guaranteed in baseball, aside from the beery, sticky coating on fans' shoes as they file out after a game.
The top question/issue/priority for this team going into spring training hasn't changed: sorting out the back end of the rotation. Who makes the cut, who gets traded, who gets shuffled off to the bullpen for safekeeping, etc.?
Let's assume Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly hold up all spring training and the Dodgers have this look as opening week rolls around: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Billingsley, Josh Beckett and Hyun-jin Ryu. That is both very exciting (ESPN's Buster Olney ranks it the third-best rotation in baseball) and very issue-raising. Let's assume Lilly could prove useful as another lefty in the bullpen as a long man/spot starter.
That leaves Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang as entirely expendable and otherwise largely useless. Why? Because as veterans without options, they can't be stashed in Triple-A. Neither figures to be either happy or particularly productive as a reliever.
So, at some point we'll probably see the Dodgers trade one or more of their starting pitchers, but you can make a good argument for keeping them all through at least mid-March. Why not get a sense of who you're going to have before you do something about who you don't need?
It's tempting to use a starter as a chip to acquire another useful piece -- say a veteran backup catcher or effective lefty reliever, maybe a right-handed outfielder -- but the Dodgers are looking at different math than you and I are. Guess how many teams got through 2012 using just five starters? Try none.
The Cincinnati Reds came close, but Todd Redmond made his major-league debut in August and they wound up using six, becoming the only team in the majors that used that few. The Dodgers don't have to look far to see how injuries can ravage a team's pitching plans. Two teams in the NL West led the majors in starters used. The San Diego Padres churned through 15 starters and the Colorado Rockies went through 14.
The Dodgers used nine, not bad considering they traded for two of those starters and saw injuries take three of their guys out for various lengths of time.
After Cincinnati, in fact, only two teams used just seven starters: the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners. Twenty-one teams -- 70 percent of the league -- used more starters than the eight the Dodgers currently have on their major league depth chart. So, maybe they need more?
Absurd? Probably, but they've also recently been linked to Kyle Lohse.