Sitting back and watching two teams which are neither the right Blue nor the Dodgers play in the 2013 World Series is no fun. Yet time heals, and although the wounds are still fresh for us Dodger fans, it is time to move on and think about next season. We once again must begin the long, arduous journey toward that ultimate goal of a World Championship for 2014. While we are not the ones playing or putting in the hours scouting or making the decisions in shaping the new team, as fans we have also endured a long road this season. As bumpy as it was, we must now embark on the next leg of this baseball quest. A new chapter within the Dodger history book is yet to be written, and we will be there as the pages are created.
The offseason can sure be boring, but it also can be an exciting time full of promise and hope. The Dodgers already have their cornerstones set in their starting rotation and roster, but there will be holes to be filled and decisions to be made. In previous seasons under the Frank McCourt regime, dreams weren’t able to be realized due to monetary restraints and stagnate scouting. The new ownership has made the offseason much more flexible in terms of thinking about free agents both international and traditional. While the majority of this winter’s budget should go right into the pocket of Clayton Kershaw, the owners will not be limited to who they can sign this winter.
As far as the 2014 starting rotation for the Dodgers, their top of the rotation is solidly set with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu. Kershaw will not become a free agent until 2015, but the Dodgers should and will extend Kershaw to a long-term deal this winter. Whether it’s $200 million and in the 8-year range or it’s longer with a larger dollar figure attached, it makes no difference to me. Hand him a blank check and call it a day. Zack Greinke is signed through 2018, but after 2015 he may opt out of his contract if he desires. Next season the ace will receive $26 million. Hyun-jin Ryu is also signed through 2018, and the earliest he can become a free agent is in 2019. He will collect a very reasonable $4.3 million next season.
The Dodgers will save some money as they finally shed the $12 million salary of Ted Lilly, and they could also decline the $8 million option on Chris Capuano. They could bring back Capuano and transition him to a long-relief role, but that is unlikely.
That leaves the number four and five spots in the rotation up for grabs. There are a couple of incumbents who will get the opportunity to make the club if their health allows. Josh Beckett is under contract for next season. He is owed almost $16 million next year, so the Dodgers will definitely look for Beckett to hopefully return successfully. Beckett underwent surgery to remove a rib in order to relieve pressure on a nerve. Another question mark is when Chad Billingsley can return to the mound after undergoing Tommy John Surgery earlier this year after making just two starts for the Dodgers. Bills, who will only be 29-years old next season, is one of the longest-tenured Dodgers and was a solid part of the Dodger rotation before succumbing to a tear in his elbow. Billingsley has reportedly already begun a throwing program, and he has been feeling good so far in his recovery. While an Opening Day return is a bit optimistic, a mid-summer homecoming for the right-hander could really boost the Dodgers next season.
With Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley’s health in limbo, the backend of the Dodgers
rotation is also up in the air. We all saw what happened this season even after the Dodgers had a surplus of starting pitching coming out of Spring Training. I expect the Dodgers to sign at least one or two additional starters this offseason.
Ricky Nolasco will be an option for the Dodgers, and after the right-hander tailed off considerably down the stretch after his dynamic debut with the Dodgers, his price may have fallen a bit. Ricky would be an adequate back-of-the-rotation guy as long as the Dodgers don’t overpay for him. In his eight Major League seasons, Ricky is 89-75 with a career ERA of 4.37. He’s hovered around 200 innings pitched in each of his last three seasons, so he could be a good innings eater although I’m thinking we can do better.
The Dodgers have been reportedly been scouting 24-year old Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka could be as good as a future number two starter in the Majors, and he has incredibly won 21 consecutive decisions with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Through the 2013 season, he has a record of 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA and 1,238 strikeouts. The 6’2″, 205 pound power pitcher throws a four-seam fastball which can top out at 97-mph but is usually within the 90-94-mph range. He has a sharp slider, a splitter, and a two-seam fastball. The posting price on Tanaka is not defined, but that shouldn’t matter to the Dodgers. The Dodgers will and absolutely should be in on Tanaka, but don’t rule out other interested teams like the Yankees who have even more starting pitching holes to fill this offseason.
Other free agents the Dodgers could consider for their starting rotation are Ervin Santana (who would cost a draft pick to sign), Matt Garza, and Hiroki Kuroda are a few to think about. Hiroki Kuroda usually makes a decision whether he will return to Japan or play on another one-year contract in the Majors at some point during the winter. While the former Dodger will be 39 next February, the right-hander hasn’t slowed down a bit. I would be delighted if the Dodgers were to sign Kuroda for next season, but I don’t anticipate that to happen.
David Price rumors have been circulating ever since the Dodgers dropped Game 6 of the NLCS. Don’t get me wrong, a rotation which reads Kershaw, Greinke, Tanaka, Ryu, and Price is just drool worthy, I feel that the price to get Price (no pun intended) would be just too steep. The Dodgers would have to trade some top prospects in order to get the 28-year old southpaw from the Rays. If they means dealing a Julio Urias, a Corey Seager, or a Zach Lee, I’m against that. The Dodgers minor league system has already been decimated, and they should be working to rebuild.
Zach Lee has been retained and not traded during these past couple of seasons, and Ned Colletti’s reluctance to trade Lee shows me that the Dodgers view Lee as a future Dodger. While Lee might be ready for the 2014 season, we may see him in the tail end or in 2015 depending on his progress in 2014. Lee was just named the Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2013.
Barring any trades, I feel that the Dodgers should actively pursue Tanaka who is arguably the best pitcher up for grabs this offseason. With Tanaka in the rotation behind Greinke, the Dodgers could then sign Ricky Nolasco to round out their rotation with Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley in the wings. Even if both Beckett and Bills are healthy and raring to go in 2014, you can never have too much pitching. Boy, isn’t that true Dodger fans?
Who do you think will be a part of the 2014 Dodgers rotation? Let us know in the comments.