Chad Billingsley, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t allowed a run in either of his last two starts. Clayton Kershaw has a 2.34 ERA in 15 starts since his early-May Milwaukee disaster, and has the 5th highest K/9 rate and 11th lowest FIP in all of baseball. Vicente Padilla hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last six starts, with a 34/8 K/BB rate in that time. Hiroki Kuroda has allowed one run in his last two starts, has held opponents scoreless three times in his last eight starts, and has the lowest FIP and highest K/9 of his career.
The starting staff overall – including the failed starts of Charlie Haeger and everyone else – is fifth in baseball in FIP. Kershaw, Kuroda, and Billingsley all rank in the top 24 in FIP (only two other teams, the Cardinals and White Sox, have even two men on that list) and Padilla’s probably pitching better than any of them right now. Remind me again why there’s this dire need for a starting pitcher we keep hearing about?
Sure, if you can get Roy Oswalt to form a ridiculous 1-2 with Kershaw, you do it. Absolutely. But I’ve been saying it for months: there’s no chance of getting Oswalt. Between his contract, the tight Dodger payroll, his no-trade clause, the silly demands coming from Houston – well, you know all the reasons. It’s just not going to happen. With Cliff Lee and Dan Haren already gone, what that means is that any pitcher we’ve heard in the news (Paul Maholm, etc.) isn’t going to be an upgrade on the current foursome. They’ll be the #5 starter. While I don’t disagree that getting someone better than Carlos Monasterios would be nice, it’s just not worth giving up anything of huge value for.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Come on, MSTI. This crazy hot streak is nice, but it’s naive to think that all four of these guys are going to pitch like this for the rest of the year.” And you’re right. They won’t. But that doesn’t make anyone better appear on the market, though, does it? So massively overpaying for someone like Maholm or Ted Lilly who’d be your last starter makes no sense – especially not with the other needs this team has. (More on that in a second.)
That said, I’m not really comfortable with tossing out Monasterios for the rest of the season, as surprisingly decent as he’s been. But you have to remember the limited impact a 5th starter is going to have. With six off-days in the next two months, there’s several opportunities to skip that starter.
Besides, the best option right now is probably an internal one. John Ely has pitched twice since being sent to ABQ, and he’s gone seven innings each time, allowing a total of five runs with a 9/3 K/BB ratio. Before you groan and say that he flamed out, remember that that isn’t really true. Though his final two starts were indeed poor, don’t forget that the two starts immediately preceding them were excellent – back-to-back outings of 7 IP, 1 ER on the road in San Francisco and Anaheim. He’s the obvious call to get the start on Saturday while Kershaw serves his suspension, and it’s worth noting that his 3.79 FIP is exactly the same that Chris Carpenter has for 2010, and lower than guys like Haren, Matt Cain, Phil Hughes, and Mark Buehrle. I’m not suggesting he’s in the same class as they are – but he does deserve another chance to round out the rotation before prospects are dumped for a guy who brings nothing else but creamy veteran goodness, and yes, I am talking about the hilarious rumors that the Pirates want Dee Gordon as part of the return for Maholm.
In addition, don’t forget also that Saturday isn’t really the trading deadline. We saw this happen last year when the Dodgers were able to pick up Jon Garland in August, and with so few teams willing to take on money this year, you’re likely to see a lot more guys make it through waivers. Trades will still happen in August, and if the Dodgers do feel that they need to make a deal for depth, then the prices are likely to be much lower in August. It’s not that I mind the idea of trading for a back-end starting pitcher, because of course I’d prefer Lilly to Ely. I just don’t think it’s worth giving up all that much for.
Besides, the Dodgers have bigger needs than a starting pitcher right now, and that’s the holes in the bullpen, the fact that the offense is stagnant, and the horrendous bench.
You can’t do too much about the offense; either Andre Ethier, Casey Blake and the like are going to start hitting, and Manny’s going to come back healthy and productive, or they’re not going to make the playoffs. Simple as that, because you’re just not going to trade for replacements for those guys – nor, in most cases, should you.
As for the bullpen, we’ve seen the dangers of trying to trade for relief help first-hand, and this year in particular prices seem sky-high. While I would like to see some reinforcements there, signs are at least pointing the right way. Kenley Jansen looks to be a find (I know, I know, just two games) and reports that Ronald Belisario is working out again at Dodger Stadium is a step in the right direction. Sure, I’d like to see Scott Downs join the crew, but not at the prices being tossed around (rumors have Toronto asking the Yankees for Joba Chamberlain or Jesus Montero, and the Red Sox for Casey Kelly or Jose Iglesias).
No, if there’s one area the Dodgers should look to improve at, it’s the bench. Jamey Carroll‘s been great, and Brad Ausmus is what is he is. Really, they could improve themselves right now by simply cutting Garret Anderson (who, by one measure, achieved the title of “Worst Season in LA Dodger history” yesterday, but that deserves a post of its own) and Ronnie Belliard, who have each been abysmal. Simply replacing them with, say, Jay Gibbons and John Lindsey would be a huge boon. (No, Juan Castro doesn’t count, though do expect to see him in September.)
But since we know that’s not going to happen, this is the place to make minor trades. Go ahead, go get Scott Podsednik (assuming the price is right), who could replace Anderson as the lefty outfield bat and could be valuable on the bases and provide depth in LF and CF. Go trade for a Russell Branyan, who would provide some power off the bench and add a real backup at 1B and an emergency option in LF or RF, or see if you can buy low on a Ty Wigginton, who can bring some power and play 1B, 2B, 3B, or LF.
Just don’t freak out if the Dodgers don’t get a starter by Saturday. It’s not their biggest need. (Now watch the starters all get knocked out in the 4th inning for the rest of the week.)