Dodgers’ Pitching – One Giant Mess, or Not?

This off-season can be divided into two segments as far as the potential makeup of the Dodgers’ 2016 pitching staff is concerned, first one of exclusion, followed by one of inclusion.

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That fateful first segment featured three highlights:
  1. The opt-out and eventual loss of Zack Greinke
  2. The ill-fated attempted signing of Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. The even ill-er-fated attempted trade for Aroldis Chapman
That hopefully ongoing second segment has so far featured three moves, each very open to speculation and needing years to fully evaluate. There are:
  1. The three-way trade with Cincinnati and the White Sox wherein the Dodgers gave up three prospects, and disdaining young veteran slugger Todd Frazier, received three prospects in return, including potential future top-of-the-rotation starter Frankie Montas
  2. The signing of free agent veteran starter Scott Kazmir
  3. The signing of Japanese pitching star Kenta Maeda

Let’s consider each of these for a moment:

Zack Greinke – Greinke was a major part of the Dodgers, for a relatively short time, and he will be sorely missed. But, giving a 32-year-old pitcher a six-year contract for over $200 Million is sheer folly. He may well be a great success this coming season, and next, and maybe the next season after that, in Arizona, but long before the end of the six years, things will go bad – they always do and they always will.

Hisashi Iwakuma – The 34-year-old Iwakuma was signed by the Dodgers to a three-year deal for $45 Million, a very reasonable deal for a number two caliber starter. He would have been a fine replacement for Greinke, and his salary was very reasonable for a pitcher

with his credentials. BUT, the Dodgers’ medical staff found something, and the team decided to void the contract. Iwakuma then resigned for one year, with two option years, with Seattle, who obviously felt whatever medical condition the Dodgers uncovered was not necessarily an impediment to his pitching this coming season, and perhaps much longer.

Aroldis Chapman - The 100+ MPH fireballer is among the very best closers
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in the game, but in today’s world of character actually mattering to some in positions of power in the world of sports, Chapman’s incident of domestic violence which included his outrageous firing off of a reported eight shots from a handgun made his coming to the Dodgers a disaster waiting to happen. Canceling the trade was the correct thing to do, and the Yankees, who later did finalize a trade for him, will have a lot to deal with the fallout. What the Dodgers will have to deal with is a rightfully upset Kenley Jansen, also one of the game’s best closers, who saw that the Dodgers’ evidently did not share that belief in seeking to replace him.

The Chicago White Sox/Cincinnati Reds trade – Three weeks ago, the Dodgers’ brain trust decided to trade away three prospects, including two that seemed to be in line for significant roles with the big league Dodgers in the very near future. While it seems undisputed that when they made this deal sending the three players, second baseman José Peraza and power hitting outfielder Scott Schebler, the two who figured to figure in, plus infielder Brandon Dixon, that they could have received veteran power hitting third baseman Todd Frazier directly from the Reds. Instead, they sent the trio to Cincinnati, Cincinnati sent Frazier to the White Sox, and the Dodgers received a brand new trio of prospects from Chicago. That trio includes one top young starting pitcher, Frankie Montas, bearer of a high-90s fastball, but no further along or closer to the majors than the organizations other top young starting pitchers of note, speedy second baseman Micah Johnson, who is said to be a a less than major league caliber defensive player, and Trayce Thompson, a run-of-the-mill mid-caliber outfield prospect who had a great major league debut late this past season, but who quickly tailed off, ending his brief time in the White Sox outfield in a major slump (.232 over his last 31 games and 95 at bats, and no home runs and one RBI over his last 33 at bats).

Scott Kazmir – The 31-year-old lefty starter has had a textbook up-and-down career, often having such ups and downs within a single season. He came up to the Tampa Bay Rays back in 2004, starting seven games as a 20-year-old. Over more than five seasons, he showed tremendous promise, but despite taking regular turns in the Rays’ rotation over that period (144 total starts with them), he could never break through with a sub-3.00 ERA or more than 13 wins. He regressed significantly over his last few months with Tampa

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Bay, falling from 2008’s 12-8, 3.49 to a robust 8-7, 5.92 in 2009, prior to his late-season trade to the Angels. He seemingly turned it back on in Anaheim, with a 1.73 ERA, despite a 2-2 record, over his six starts as a member of the Angels. However, he turned it back off to his earlier 2009 form in 2010, however, as he had the worst season of his life and a 9-15 record and 5.94 ERA through his one full year in Anaheim.

His brief bout with consistency continued in 2011 – he was so bad in spring training that his only action for the year was in the minors. After compiling an ERA of over 17 in five Triple-A starts, he was released, with the Angels eating the remaining $14.5 M on his contract.

2012 was not much better, as Kazmier could only find work with the independent Atlantic League, where he continued to struggle. After the 2012 season, he played winter ball in Puerto Rico, and despite only a modest improvement in his stats, his velocity did improve, and the Indians invited him 2013 spring training. He made the team, and his comeback had begun. He spent the season in the Indian’s rotation (10-9, 4.04) and then signed a two-year deal for $22 M with Oakland. 2014 saw him win the most games of his career, 15, though with, again, a very average ERA, 3.55. He then began 2015 pitching very well, with an excellent 2.38 ERA over his first 18 starts, and that led to a late season pick-up by then contending Houston Astros. And therein lies the story that the Dodgers’ have apparently chosen to ignore.

As of now, Kazmir figures to be no worse than the Dodgers’ number three starter, and if Hyun-Jin Ryu is not ready or able to return to the rotation, Kazmir would be number two behind Clayton Kershaw. And, he will be earning (hopefully) the first third of the salary due him under the $48 Million, three-year contract that he signed to come to the Dodgers. This, after an absolutely miserable showing in the pennant race and post season while with the Astros. In 12 stretch-run starts, he won two and lost six, with a 4.17 ERA and equally bad 1.39 WHIP. He then followed that up with a single playoff outing, and a bad one, at that. In game two of the AL league Division Series against Kansas City, he could not hold early 3-0 or 4-1 leads, getting knocked out in the sixth inning of an eventual 5-4 loss.

After coming to the majors with a high-90s fastball, he eventually lost a good 10 MPH, but regained some of that, getting back to the mid-90s. But today, he relies on a mix of low-90s two- and four-seam fastballs, a slider, and as his most effective pitch, a change-up.

Does any of that sound like a guy that you’re going to insert into maybe the number two spot in yout rotation and to whom you want to become indebted to, to the tune of $48 Million?

Kenta Maeda - The Japanese pitching star could be a major bargain, though it is unlikely that he will be a number two or even a number three MLB starter. At 27, he’s done well in Japan, well enough to require a $20 Million buyout of his contract, but his deal with LA will pay him only a guaranteed $3 Million per year, though it is loaded with incentives, which is fine and an infinitely better way to go than handing Kazmir $48 M, regardless of how well he may perform.
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Maeda’s contract is apparently for eight years, way too long for ANY pitcher, normally, but at that $3 M, still likely a great deal for LA, if he performs.

So, have the Dodgers lost this off-season? Probably not, so long as those awful rumors that they are considering trading Joc Pederson or even Julio Urias, are all untrue. Trading either of them would be a disaster that would go in the box with the trades of Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez. I’m not a fan of Scott Kazmir, but I like the potential of Kenta Maeda. I really liked the Hisashi Iwakuma signing, but abhorred the possibility of bringing in a scumbag like Chapman. I hated giving up Scott Schebler who will be a big-time major league hitter, and I was really surprised that they dumped Peraza after hearing so many good things about him for much of last season, but Montas could be a steal. Thompson will be no more than a journeyman backup, despite the platitudes and raves from local talk radio buddies of his father, ex-Laker Mychal Thompson.

They have added much-needed depth and some talent to the starting rotation, but they have done nothing, yet, to fix the horrid bullpen.

They did NOT need a new closer, but rather middle relievers and improved set-up guys. That is vital for the Dodgers to compete in 2016.

It will be what happens with the pen by the start of the season that will determine whether this off-season was a winner or a loser.

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