It's no secret - a huge reason why the Dodgers were sitting home on Saturday night while the Cardinals and Giants opened the NLCS is because of their bullpen. More specifically, their middle relief, which constantly let them down in their short NLDS stay.
Ken Gurnick over at Dodgers.com penned a good article breaking down each position heading into the offseason. For now, I'll take a look at the bullpen and offer possible solutions.
Let's start at the top with Kenley Jansen. He's really good. Next!
No seriously, there are plenty of teams out there with closer problems, but Jansen has the stuff and makeup of a solid closer for years to come. While he's mostly a one-trick pony with a cutter, it's a devastating pitch when it's on. He's also shown an ability to mix it up, as he started going to a slider a little more often to go with the hard stuff. Overall, he finished the season with 44 saves and a 2.76 ERA, and was even better in the second half with a 1.69 ERA.
Simply put, he's turned himself into one of the best closers in the game.
The Dodges signed Jamey Wright for this role, though he was mostly used in middle relief. He's a free agent, and considering how badly he wore down as the season progressed (3.50 ERA before the break, 5.74 after), I'm not sure the Dodgers can rely on a guy who will be 40 next season.
Carlos Frias made the cut for the playoffs, but was a non-factor. There's too small a sample size to really judge him right now, as he's been both really good and really bad in the little we've seen him. A younger arm, though, so he'll be in the mix.
Another option who has been long forgotten about is Paul Maholm. He was signed pretty much last minute in Spring Training with question marks surrounding other arms. He tore his ACL in the beginning of August, and was pretty lousy with a 4.84 ERA. I'd say his time in Dodger blue is over.
(Note: I also realize that Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia were in the fold at the end of the season, but I would think they'd look to sign elsewhere as starters. I don't expect either of them to be back.)
Here's where things get interesting. There's a lot of arms... and a lot of mediocrity.
Let's start off with three guys who have guaranteed contracts: Brian Wilson (exercised his player option... unfortunately), J.P. Howell, and Brandon League. All three will be back for the final year of their deals. We all saw how awful Wilson and Howell were at the end of the season. Wilson was pretty much bad from day #1, but Howell had a very good first few months until taking a nosedive in September. League had a good ERA at 2.57, but was given all sorts of money to be a closer, not a guy who pitches meaningless innings. But that's his role right now.
Don't forget about Paco Rodriguez, too. He was left off the playoff roster, but has already experienced plenty of success last season, and is a young arm the Dodgers covet. If he's completely healthy, he'll be in the mix for 2015.
Other young arms to remember are Pedro Baez, Daniel Coulombe, Yimi Garcia, and Onelki Garcia. Chris Withrow is a power-throwing righty, but also is on the shelf with Tommy John surgery. We'll see if the Dodgers bring him back.
Thankfully, Chris Perez is also a free agent. Considering he packed up and skipped town when he found out he wasn't on the playoff roster, and because he was flat out atrocious, he's as good as gone.
Free Agents to Target
Thanks to MLBTradeRumors.com, there's plenty of good arms out there. Here's a sampling of the best.
Closers - Casey Janssen, David Robertson, Francisco Rodriguez, Koji Uehara.
Right-handed middle relief - Joba Chamberlain, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Joakim Soria.
Left-handed middle relief - Andrew Miller
There's more names than just these, but those are the ones who stood out to me the most. Considering the Dodgers' willingness to dole out big cash to guys in the 'pen (Matt Guerrier, League, Wright, Howell, Wilson, for example), don't be surprised to see the same thing happen again. But I wouldn't blame them, as they need to get new blood.
Typically during a season, a bullpen will carry about 7-8 players. We already know Jansen, Wilson, Howell, and League will be back, so the number is cut in half. In a perfect world, the Dodgers would cut ties with at least Wilson, but since they're looking to trim payroll a bit, I would be surprised if that happens since that would be nearly $10 in dead money. I just don't see that happening.
Hopefully Paco makes a good comeback, and maybe someone like Elbert can finally stay healthy and show his stuff. That's a big IF, though. Baez is an intriguing option because he has powerful stuff and is just getting started.
With all of that said, Ned Colletti (or whoever the GM is...) needs to look outside the organization for help. They can't come back with the same cast of characters who completely let them down in the postseason. That would send a horrible message. The names I listed above are a start. Even if just one of them is signed, it would be great.
Then again, maybe someone in the Wilson, Howell, and League trio completely stinks it up in Spring Training and the Dodgers send them packing despite their price tags. That would send a positive message of not keeping dead weight around, no matter what they're paid. That would only happen if they trim their payroll to under $200 like they say they want to do. Then they might be able to justify keeping some dead money around.
The only thing I fear is that the Dodgers won't be willing to bring in more closers to fill the setup role, as they've been burned by Wilson, League, and Perez. I guess I wouldn't blame them, but the flipside is that they HAVE to get new blood in the fold. I would much rather see someone (or two) completely new pitch in innings 7-8. Having the same old, same old won't solve their problems.