I’m sad the Dodgers didn’t make it into the World Series, and then I look at what happened last night in Game 3, and I can sort of see the silver lining. The stress levels there just have to be off the charts, and while I can feel for Boston fans who think they got robbed, I can’t really see an argument that says the umpires didn’t make the right call. If there’s a problem, it’s in the rule as written, but it was called correctly. Now let’s talk about it for the next 40 years.
The Incumbents: Kenley Jansen (arbitration-eligible) is among the best relievers in baseball. Paco Rodriguez (team control) showed more than enough this season to earn a chance to prove his late-season slump was just that, Chris Withrow (team control) looks like he might have a future, and the consistently inconsistent Ronald Belisario (arbitration-eligible) still looks good enough at times to suffer his down periods.
At the moment, those are the four most likely members of the 2014 Dodger bullpen. Brandon League probably is there as well — no, he’s not getting cut — though you could easily see the team swallowing a substantial portion of the $17.5m (!) still due him as part of a larger trade this winter just to reclaim the roster spot. J.P. Howell, Brian Wilson, & Carlos Marmol are all free agents; I imagine the team will show varying degrees of interest in all three. Scott Elbert was hurt all year and will miss a large chunk of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and may just be non-tendered first. Speaking of injuries, could Chad Billingsley or Josh Beckett find themselves here?
Organizational Options: A few. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Javy Guerra couldn’t sustain his brief 2011 run as the closer, and he appeared in only nine games this year while spending most of his time with Albuquerque. He enters 2014 without any minor league options remaining and may be on his way out the door. Shawn Tolleson has always been a favorite of mine, but he missed basically the entire year with back and hip injuries, and might need to spend time in the minors before returning. That might also apply to Jose Dominguez, who showed promise before missing a shockingly long time with a quad injury, and Onelki Garcia, who likely needs more seasoning after only 65.1 professional innings. Deeper in the system, Yimi Garcia had an 85/14 K/BB for Double-A Chattanooga.
Trade Options: This is always tough, because teams who have good relievers don’t want to move them, and the ones that do get moved are either untrustworthy or way overpriced. Looking at last winter, only a few trades were made involving relievers, and they were either bad situations (Heath Bell getting out of Miami) or part of larger deals (Tony Sipp being included in the Shin-Soo Choo / Trevor Bauer deal, or Mark Melancon and Joel Hanrahan being traded along with others for one another). Other than maybe trying to revive interest in the increasingly expensive Luke Hochevar, I wouldn’t expect much here.
Free Agent Options: Wilson might be the most attractive name out there, but occasional closers Joaquin Benoit & Grant Balfour should generate some interest, if you can get past the fact that they’re both 36. Anyone want a return engagement with Kevin Gregg, or to see what Fernando Rodney‘s age-37 season is like, or Joe Nathan‘s age-39 year, or to see if Edward Mujica becomes the umpteenth pitcher to find the fountain of youth in St. Louis and the immediately lose it upon leaving? Francisco Rodriguez is out there and somehow only 32, which is shocking to me. Really, all of these guys are a crapshoot. Can you fix Joba Chamberlain? Can you trust Jesse Crain, who is excellent when healthy but also rarely healthy? Do you like Nick Masset or Joe Smith or Matt Albers?
With Elbert injured, Rodriguez somewhat of a question mark, and Howell not guaranteed to return, the Dodgers will absolutely need to find a lefty reliever. That might just be bringing Howell back, which I think we’d all be okay with, but there’s at least a few southpaws who might be interesting. Oliver Perez went from Mets disaster to quietly effective Seattle reliever and will only be 32 next year, while Boone Logan managed to miss some bats for the Yankees. Or, if Ned Colletti needs to satiate that ex-Giant itch, Javier Lopez is an option.
The Verdict? One would hope that the lesson has been learned here about spending heavily on expensive relief pitching, and the team has enough in-house options to form the core of a pretty good bullpen. I think the team will try to retain Wilson, but that he’ll move on for a closer’s role (Detroit seems like a pretty good option to overpay him) and that they’ll being back Howell on a deal that most of us will cringe at. Or at least, that’s what I’m hoping for, because the idea of some of those aging closers coming to challenge Jansen is terrifying to me.