No team should have to have Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Correia, and decline-phase Dan Haren in the rotation at the same time. That the Dodgers have done it for a few weeks and managed not only to survive but to thrive is a massive achievement unto itself, but this was never the plan, and that’s why so many wanted to see the Dodgers get David Price or John Lackey or someone before the July 31 deadline, or Bartolo Colon or Jon Niese after it. Since that never happened, actual prospects — not elite ones, but interesting ones — have been burned on veteran retreads. Two months ago, I was worried about the total lack of organizational depth, because Zach Lee had disappointed, Stephen Fife has been hurt, and Red Patterson isn’t interesting. I’m sure it was something we mentioned in passing earlier than that too.
The thing is, the Dodgers looked like they might have too many starters over the winter. This is when we all thought more of Lee, of course, but also when Ross Stripling, No. 6 on Dustin’s pre-season top prospect list and coming off a very impressive age-23 showing that ended at Double-A Chattanooga, would be in the mix. But Stripling blew out his arm in mid-February, and will be out until mid-2015.
No matter: Chad Billingsley would be back! After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 24, 2013, Billingsley wasn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It would give Josh Beckett a chance to prove that he was healthy — or not — and if and when Beckett or any other starter failed, Billingsley would be able to step in. If, somehow, all five starters were alive and productive, Billingsley could work his way back into the bullpen. When I was in Arizona in March, I saw a Billingsley bullpen session. He looked great.
Of course, that’s not how it worked out. Billingsley made it through only three innings total in two minor league rehab starts for Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before he went down with another elbow surgery, though not to the same UCL he’d had replaced. The 12 innings he lasted in April of 2013 are the only big league innings he’ll have pitched in two seasons, and the Dodgers will almost certainly choose the $3m buyout on his 2015 option of $14m.
With a healthy Billingsley — and the recovery rate from Tommy John is so high that it wasn’t unfair to count on him — this all looks a lot different. I know a lot of Dodger fans disliked him, but he spent five years as a solid mid-rotation starter, the kind the Dodgers could have desperately used when Zack Greinke‘s elbow barked, or Beckett’s hip exploded, or Hyun-jin Ryu‘s backside acted up, or Haren went through a stretch of awful. It’s not as though this team didn’t have an insurance plan in the rotation; they did. It just didn’t work out, and it’s easy at this point to forget that Billingsley was ever intended to be a part of the 2014 Dodgers. Now Victor Arano, Jesmuel Valentin, and whatever the Twins end up getting for Correia are gone. We probably won’t miss them, but we might. And we’ll likely never see Billingsley in Dodger blue again.