Dodgers Bring Back Jon Garland

Well, this came out of nowhere – the Dodgers have signed Jon Garland to a one-year deal. Dylan Hernandez has the terms of the deal:

Garland deal with Dodgers: $5MM plus incentives in 2011; vesting option for 2012 worth $8MM.

Hernandez adds that the 2012 option vests if Garland pitches 190 innings in 2011, a mark he has reached in each of the last nine seasons.  Garland, as you might remember, was a late acquisition by the Dodgers in 2009 and made six decent starts (2.72 ERA / 3.84 FIP) down the stretch. He won 14 games with San Diego last season, though Petco Park certainly helped; his 3.47 ERA is quite a bit lower than his 4.41 FIP, and his home ERA was a full run lower than his road ERA.

In a vacuum, this is a great move to fill out the rotation. Garland is certainly nothing spectacular, but his durability (9 straight years of at least 32 starts) and reliable average performance  (FIP between 4.05 and 4.93 in each of those nine years) makes him one of the best #5 starters in the league. Seriously, #5 spots for most teams are average at best and dreadful at worst; there’s not too many clubs who can say that they can do better than Garland there.  He’s certainly not someone you’d rely on to carry your staff, but when you remember how often the Dodgers trotted out Charlie Haeger, John Ely and Carlos Monasterios last year, he’s a big improvement. All along, I’ve said that I’m more than happy with Ely as your #7 (or so) starter, a guy you call on when injuries hit, but counting on him to be your #5 is terrifying. With this move, we no longer have to worry about going into camp worrying about that.

I have to say, a rotation of Kershaw / Billingsley / Kuroda / Lilly / Garland is incredibly solid. Kershaw’s a young ace, and Billingsley’s not far behind him. Kuroda and Lilly are both solid veterans with the ability to come up with a gem from time to time, and Garland’s one of the most reliable inning-eating starters in baseball. This is a durable rotation with the right mix of youth, experience, and talent.

So this leaves us with two questions. #1, with yet another veteran signing, what’s left over in the bank to bolster the offense? As much as I like this rotation, you can’t just bring back the same offense; we saw how that worked last year, and all the pitching in the world doesn’t overcome that. #2, Garland for $5m in 2011 is a nice deal, but $8m in 2012 seems a little steep. It’s not guaranteed that he’ll get that vesting option, of course, but considering he hasn’t missed 190 IP since 2001, so it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll make it. So the question has to be asked – if you could have had Vicente Padilla (who now seems assured of being elsewhere) for $5m in 2011 without the risk of paying him $8m in 2012, is that a better deal? I don’t think there’s much argument that when they’re both healthy and at their peak, Padilla is a more effective pitcher than Garland is, though of course Garland has nothing like the injury or personal history that Padilla does. My initial feeling is that after last year’s troubles, Garland’s reliability is worth the risk over Padilla’s potential, but it’s a question worth asking.

All in all, I’m satisfied with this move, and it’s good to know that the rotation is totally set and solid before December has even started. Great job by Ned Colletti and co. to take care of this situation so completely, while other teams are left to fight for the scraps.

Update: Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com notes that Garland also has $3m in 2011 incentives that could get him up to $8m total for this year as well, and adds about the new rotation:

The Dodgers’ starting five for the 2011 season – Clayton KershawChad BillingsleyHiroki KurodaTed Lilly and Garland — had a cumulative 2010 ERA of 3.39 (371 ER/986.0 IP) and a .234 opponents’ batting average (857-for-3663) would have led all major league starting rotations.

Well, you just can’t argue with that.

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