As head of baseball operations first for the Boston Red Sox and then for the Chicago Cubs, Theo Epstein has worked miracles, rebuilding two moribund organizations that languished in the depths of second divisions for generations, turning each into a World Champion. Epstein made decision after decision, deal after deal, with knowledge, precision and expertise seldom seen in the world of sports, or in any type of big business, and gained a much deserved reputation as the very best at what he does. Given all this, it is really hard to fathom the monumental error in judgment, and significant gift to the LA Dodgers, that Epstein made by signing the Whirling Darvish to a six-year, $126-million contract.
As a Dodgers’ fan, I am eternally grateful for two reasons: First, by signing with the Cubs, Darvish is now an ex-Dodger, now and forever, and that is beyond wonderful. I wrote
much about the Whirling late last season, and fans of the LA Blue must always remember the worst pitching performances in World Series history, and be forever grateful that that can never be repeated in a Dodgers’ uniform by the Cubs’ new starter. Second is the fact that Darvish is a member of the Cubs’ rotation, now and through, presumably, the time that he turns 37 years of age. It is not just the fact that the Cubs have added mediocrity with the Whirling to their otherwise fine, World-Series-contending rotation, but also due to the fact that by signing him for such a sum of money that they will be unable to make many otherwise beneficial deals over the next several years, as they, along with the rest of baseball’s elite teams, struggle to stay under the luxury tax threshold. As part of this, the signing also means that they have rejected retaining the guy who was their best starting pitcher over the last several years, Jake Arrieta, who has gone 64-29 since 2014. Just as a joke, compare that with the Whirling’s won-lost record since 2014, which is 27-24.
As pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training tomorrow, it is clear that the Dodgers’ deep group of starters relied on in 2017 has been slightly paired down, in numbers but not in quality, as losing the likes of the Whirling, along with Brandon McCarthy and the never-present Scott Kazmir, equals improvement by elimination. The Dodgers figure to begin the season with a five-man rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, with Walker Bueller the stud in waiting and with Ross Stripling the extra, fill-in guy, staying sharp in the bullpen. Free-agent rightly Tom Koehler is an insurance policy at the likely number eight spot on the rotation depth chart.
We hear commentators talk about the matter-of-fact 2018 return of Julio Urias (I’ve even heard some refer to his return from “Tommy John Surgery”) but anyone who understands his real injury (as I wrote about in detail last June) a tear to the anterior capsule of his right shoulder, realizes the seriousness of the injury, the fact that it is career-threatening injury from which very few pitchers ever fully recover and return to prior form. It is the same injury that ended the careers of Johan Santana, Mark Prior, John Danks and Rich Harden. Urias is scheduled to begin throwing around June, but the likelihood of him pitching in a 2018 major league game at all, and certainly prior to the late season, is minimal.
Despite the bad loss of Brandon Morrow, the Dodgers’ bullpen should be about as good as last year’s model, with all the other key guys back and with the major improvement of Scott Alexander now the top lefty in the pen, rather than the likes of Luis Avilan who had that spot for most of 2017, until the team acquired the disappointing and now also
departed Tony Watson and the surprisingly efficient Tony Cingrani. A return to health, and 2016 form, from Adam Liberatore would give the team a really solid trio of lefties out of the bullpen.
The one big question out of the bullpen will be the effectiveness of Pedro Baez, after his early 2017 success followed by his total late-season meltdown. Without a significant rebound from Baez, the righty side of the pen will be depending on Josh Fields, and pick-em from Stripling, Koehler, and maybe even Maeda.
With the depth the Dodgers now have both in the outfield and in the infield, and with the superfluous yasmani grandal now taking up full-time residence on the bench, trading grandal and/or an infielder or outfielder for a solid righty for the bullpen would seem to be the biggest need the team has on the eve of spring training. Among the hundred-plus free agents still unsigned are a few righty relief pitchers on which a team such as the Dodgers might be willing to gamble, such as Huston Street who pitched all of four innings due to injuries in 2017, and Dustin McGowan who had an up-and-down 2017 season in Miami.
Let the fun begin!