One Guy Missing as Dodgers Report to Camp

A few days ago I wrote about how Josh Hamilton, following his recent shoulder surgery, would be missing in action as the Angels reported to spring training. Well, the Dodgers have a similar but worse situation as they filter in for the start of the spring endeavor, as indispensable closer Kenley Jansen has now had surgery to remove a growth from his foot, and will be out of action for up to three months. The Angles have several outfield replacements for Hamilton, and could even be better off without him, given his recent production, but the Dodgers have no viable replacement for Jansen, and have yet to make a move four days after learning of his prognosis. Local media reports have been contradictory, some saying that new head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has been in no hurry to make any deal and that no new discussions have begun, while others have said that discussions have been focused solely on obtaining a suitable replacement. This at a time where the roster is barren of any acceptable closer and at a time where the free agent market includes exactly two possibilities, Rafael Soriano and Francisco Rodriguez.

No one on the current Dodgers' roster should be considered a possible replacement for Jansen, despite indications from Friedman that an internal replacement may well be the solution, and despite missives from area sports reporters relaying thoughts from the empty uniform non-manager Don Mattingly, indicating his current plan to disdain picking a single replacement closer but rather to go with individual situational match-ups. Of course,
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when your current bullpen includes names such as Joel Peralta, Joe Wieland, Chris Hatcher, Adam Liberatore, Carlos Frias, and Paco Rodriguez, what are you going to say? Mattingly does have one excellent veteran reliever in J.P. Howell, but Howell in over 400 major league appearances has recored a grand total of 21 saves, 17 of those coming in 2009, and one since, over his last 226 games. Then, of course, there is always Brandon League, who will pocket $8.5 million this coming season, while being hidden in the back recesses of the bullpen. Granted, League once saved 37 games in a major league season, but as a member of the Dodgers has blown six of his las 20 save opportunities over the last two seasons.

So, with the dearth of closer talent on the roster, if the Dodgers are to avoid an early season disaster, they will have to acquire a live body that can close. Of the two viable candidates, Rodriguez is by far the prize. He’s been a top-level closer since the 2002 post-season when his rookie heroics led the Angels to their one and only World Series title,

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and while he has bounced around over the last seven seasons toiling for four different clubs, including two stretches in Milwaukee, he did still save 44 games last season for the Brewers. Soriano, on the other had, would not be a good choice. He's put up some decent numbers in some of his many stops over the last dozen years, but he has never been a clutch guy in pressure situations, and last year after being the Nats' closer was so bad down the stretch that
not only did he lose his closer’s job, but he was cut from the team’s post season roster.

While he’s not a guy I’d want in LA, the third and last free agent possibility would be an even worse choice. That guy is Joba Chamberlain, whose seven year career has been a major disappointment to anyone who believed the hype the yankees attached to him a few years back. Looking at him and seeing his stuff, his career stats of a 3.81 ERA and ten blown saves in seventeen opportunities seems about right. He had a decent season last year in Detroit as a set-up guy, but there is absolutely no viable basis to think that he could become a successful closer overnight.

The final option would be a trade, and it seems that the only decent closer that could be on the market is Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies would likely demand one of the Dodgers’ top prospects included in any such deal, just as they reportedly have wanted in any trade for Cole Hamels. If they could get Papelbon without giving up one of the organization’s top

prospects, that could solve the early season problem, but what do you do with him and Jansen in the same bullpen going forward? You cannot give Pappelbon away or underuse him after giving up significant value for him, but also the team cannot demote Jansen from his job, once he has regained his health.

After a winter of questionable deals and a remade roster, the Dodgers, Friedman, and the non-manager face a major obstacle as the
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season nears. How they handle this will set the tone for the entire season. However, playing in the worst overall division in major league baseball, where the defending Champion San Francisco Giants suffered some major off season loses and where the team to beat could be the re-made and vastly improved San Diego Padres, the Dodgers could begin the season with another horrible start and still end up dominating the division. The post season is another story, and will likely be a repeat of last year.

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