Jeff Weaver Returns, But Where Does He Fit?

Jeff Weaver returns to the Dodgers on a minor-league deal, which in a vacuum, great! Weaver was a complete surprise and an invaluable piece of the bullpen last year, which is why he earned his well-deserved “A++” in our yearly review. I’m actually somewhat surprised that he couldn’t get even a sniff of a major-league deal after how useful he was last season, but good for us.

That said, I’m interested to see how the back end of the bullpen shakes out. If you bring in guys like Justin Miller, Francisco Felix, and Ramon Ortiz (who was also signed yesterday - he’s 37, hasn’t pitched in the bigs since 2007, and has a career ERA of nearly 5. Hooray?) and they don’t make the squad, big deal. You send them to the minors or you dump them, and no one gives it a second thought.

But in Weaver’s case I would think he wouldn’t be too eager to return on a non-guaranteed deal if he didn’t think he’d have a really good chance at making the team, after his nice 2009.  Not that I’m suggesting there’s any handshake agreements, but you’d have to think he’s higher on the NRI pole than the cast of thousands the team has brought in so far. The thing is, the Dodger bullpen seems pretty set. Most expect the team to carry seven relievers, and barring injury, the top five spots are almost certainly guaranteed to Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario, and Ramon Troncoso.

That leaves two spots, and I expect one to be filled by the loser of the fifth starter derby, particularly James McDonald. While Eric Stults is unlikely to work out of the pen and you could make a case for sending Charlie Haeger and Scott Elbert back to the minors, McDonald proved himself as a quality reliever in the second half last year – he makes the team regardless.

So that leaves one spot, and it’d be hard enough if it was just Weaver vs. the other 5th starters vs. two hundred has-beens and never wases. But don’t forget that there’s an added level of difficulty here, and that’s that the Dodgers took not one but two Rule 5 picks, Carlos Monasterios and Armando Zerpa. If they don’t make the MLB team (or end up on the DL), they have to be offered back to their original club. The Dodgers don’t have room for both of them, but they also wouldn’t have bothered to make the claim if they didn’t plan on giving them every chance to make the club.

So it’s not going to be a simple path for Weaver. Still, if the Dodgers pitching staff is in such good shape that they can’t bother to carry a guy who was productive for them last year, all the better for us. And hey, at least they’re following the advice I gave out at the end of his 2009 review:

For next year, I won’t mind at all if he moves on. If he’s so intent on being a Dodger that he’ll come back for a non-guaranteed invite, then by all means, but he’s not worth giving any real money to.

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