Well, it’s official. The Dodgers will not be selling Masahiro Tanaka jerseys. The highly coveted Japanese right-hander will be a New York Yankee. The Yankees and Tanaka agreed to a 7-year, $155 million dollar deal on Tuesday morning making him the fifth highest paid pitcher in baseball. Including the $20 million dollar posting fee the Yankees invested $175 million in Tanaka and that’s not even including the potential salary-cap ramifications. However, that’s not the Dodgers problem.
No, the Dodgers “problem” isn’t even really a problem at all. Los Angeles’ best baseball team may have lost out, for the first time in awhile, on a marquee free agent they targeted; however, the Dodgers aren’t short on starting pitching. The only thing missing for the Dodgers is a fifth starter. That is one of the Dodgers two biggest questions going into spring training along with the battle at second base.
Before we jump into the issue of the fifth starter let’s take a look at the four locked in starters for the 2014 season.
#1: Clayton Kershaw
2013 stats: 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 232 K’S, 0.915 WHIP, 7.8 WAR
#2: Zack Greinke
2013 stats: 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 148 K’s, 1.114 WHIP, 3.9 WAR
#3: Hyun-jin Ryu
2013 stats: 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 154 K’s, 1.203 WHIP, 3.3 WAR
#4: Dan Haren
2013 stats (Washington Nationals): 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 151 K’s, 1.238 ERA, 0.0 WAR
The top-three starters for the Dodgers were all magnificent last season in LA and led the team to the NLCS. We should expect nothing less than a repeat of last season from all three, even though it will be difficult for Kershaw to match his 1.83 ERA from last season. But hey, it’s Clayton Kershaw. As long as “public enemy number one” is working we should never doubt him.
The Dodgers fourth starter this season will be Daren Haren who was signed to a deal earlier this offseason. Haren, 33, struggled last season with the Nationals; however, he is a quality pitcher who has had success in the National League West before with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers were looking to acquire a fourth starter who would be reliable enough to hand the ball to every fifth day. In Haren they have found that man. Haren has started over 30 games in each of the last 10 seasons. There may not be a more reliable starter over that period of time.
So the top four of the Dodgers rotation is set in stone. But who will step to the rubber on that fifth night?
The Dodgers have a couple of in-house options from the 40-man roster to consider over the next seven weeks until Spring Training starts. The two names that immediately come to mind are Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley. Both of those options are already being paid a ton of money to start for the Dodgers this season. Beckett, who is recovering from surgery that required rib removal for his thoracic outlet syndrome, has one more year left on his deal and is owed $15.75 million dollars. Billingsley is still recovering Tommy John surgery and won’t be available until May or June and is owed $12 million dollars this season.
Both Billingsley and Beckett aren’t great options but it seems like the front office is content to move forward with Beckett as the team’s fifth starter and see what they can get from Billingsley when he returns from injury. Billingsley should be motivated to show the team what he can do because the team has a $14 million dollar option on his contract. If he doesn’t impress the team he will be bought out for the very low price of $3 million dollars. You’ve got to love being a professional baseball player.
The Dodgers have a couple of other options if they’re not thrilled with the idea of depending on starters coming off of serious injury. They could turn to their suddenly deep collection of arms in the minor leagues. There’s Stephen Fife, who performed admirably for the Dodgers last season, and Matt Magill, who wasn’t as successful as a starter in the big leagues last season, or they could bring up a couple of prospects.
The most obvious prospect to call up would be the 2010 first rounder, Zach Lee. Lee, 22, is one of the best prospects in the Dodgers organization and is deserving of a shot sometime in the near future. Lee has had a ton of success in the minors and may finally be ready for big league competition. If Lee is able to find success in Spring Training, he may be an early season call up if Beckett and Billingsley fail to produce or they remain injury prone. The other prospects the Dodgers could turn to might be Ross Stripling or Seth Rosin. If I had a choice, I would bring up Lee. He is one of the best prospects in the Dodgers system and might just be ready for the show.
The Dodgers could look outside of the organization to sure up their rotation. If the Dodgers want to go out and spend more money, like they tried to with Tanaka, they could go after Bronson Arroyo, Matt Garza or Ervin Santana with Arroyo being the most likely candidate to get the call. The Dodgers would only want Arroyo on a one or two-year deal. I don’t know if this option makes much sense considering there are cheaper options within the organization who may be able to outperform Arroyo.
Lastly, there is one more big fish floating around the market and his name is David Price. Price just reached a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays; however, his contract is up at the end of the season. The Rays usually capitalize on these opportunities to unload their talent for a ton of prospects and now would be the time. Would the Dodgers pursue Price, give up their farm system and invest another $100+ million in the starting rotation? It would go against what Dodgers President Stan Kasten has said; however, with the Guggenheim Baseball Partners in control, nothing is ever off the table.
So the question remains: Who will be the Dodgers fifth starter in 2014? The options are endless. I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.