With the starting rotation of Clayton Kershaw / Chad Billingsley / Ted Lilly / Aaron Harang / Chris Capuano all but set, Nathan Eovaldi & John Ely likely the main reserves, and the possibility of other minor leaguers like Allen Webster, Michael Antonini, or Zach Lee arriving at some point at well, the Dodger starting group looks like it could have a decidedly American and Caucasian feel.
If that seems unusual for the Dodgers, well, it is. If it holds, this would be the first time since the 1980 staff featured Jerry Reuss, Bob Welch, Burt Hooton, Don Sutton, and three others that the Dodgers have had all of their starts made by American natives. 19-year-old Mexican Fernando Valenzuela made ten relief appearances that year and would start at least one game for the club in each year from 1981-90, by which time Dominican Ramon Martinez was on the scene; Martinez was a Dodger through 1998 and was followed by starters from all over the world, like Chan Ho Park, Odalis Perez, Kazuhisa Ishii, Hiroki Kuroda, and Vicente Padilla. Considering the Dodgers were once known for their diverse “United Nations” rotation in the mid-1990s with Martinez, Park, Hideo Nomo, and Ismael Valdes – in 1996, those four plus Pedro Astacio made 135 of 162 starts, with Tom Candiotti taking the rest – it’s a surprising turnaround.
In and of itself, this isn’t a problem, because Kershaw is one of the best in the game and the other four are all legitimate (if overpriced) rotation options; besides, this wouldn’t even be a discussion if financial concerns hadn’t prevented Kuroda’s return and if Rubby De La Rosa hadn’t blown out his elbow last season. (Other than a trade, the slim possibility of de la Rosa returning late in the season is probably the most likely chance of keeping the streak alive.) Of course, since one of the many sins of the Frank McCourt era is that the Dodgers have become one of the most stingy teams in international spending after years of leading in that area, it’s hard not to notice.
The Americanization of the current team goes beyond just the starting rotation, because of the current 40-man roster, only seven players are from outside North America (and yes, I’m saying “North” because Blake Hawksworth is Canadian) – Ramon Troncoso, Kenley Jansen, Ivan DeJesus, Juan Uribe, Trent Oeltjen, Juan Rivera, and Alfredo Silverio. That could increase by one if Ronald Belisario actually makes it back, but it’s also unlikely that Troncoso, DeJesus, Oeltjen, or Silverio make the 25-man roster or have any impact on the 2012 club. Just as random point of comparison, the 2008 team had 14 players who weren’t from the United States or Canada.
Again, that’s hardly a scandal or something that seemed planned, and does feel as though it’s a direct impact of the lack of funding for international scouting. (Nor is it really a racial issue, especially on a team that will give considerable playing time to African-Americans Matt Kemp, James Loney, Dee Gordon, Jerry Hairston, and Tony Gwynn.) But what was once an important talent pipeline has seemingly dried up, as evidenced by the fact that only four of the top 20 prospects recently listed at Minor League Ball are from outside North America. If the Dodgers are to return to prominence – once, you know, the criminal is gone – refunding international scouting needs to be a top priority.