A look at the ‘sane’ reliever market for the Dodgers

Seung-hwan Oh (Via)

The Winter Meetings were rather uneventful for the Dodgers. Guess what? That’s OK. Not every off-season transaction needed to be made this week.

They didn’t trade for Marcell Ozuna and they didn’t pay the going rate for any of the non-closer relievers. They also didn’t pay Brandon Morrow, who was signed by the Cubs for two years and $21 million guaranteed (with a $12 million vesting option or $3 million buyout), presumably to be their closer. Yeah, it would have been great to have him back, but this front office has never felt comfortable paying that much for any reliever not named Kenley Jansen. And in terms of missed opportunities with relievers, other than Morrow, I’m not sure exactly what folks wanted the Dodgers to do this week.

Those are all the relievers who have agreed to deals this week, and it’s difficult to see a missed chance in that group. That’s an average of 2.2 years and $7.65 million per season, and the Dodgers have signed two non-Kenley relievers under Andrew Friedman to seven-figure deals on the open market. Joe Blanton got a 1-year, $4 million deal prior to the 2016 season, and Sergio Romo got a 1-year, $3 million deal before last season. They’ve signed other free agent relievers, but most have been minimal investments (including Morrow, who was a minor-league signing). So for them to shell out that kind of money for non-elite relievers would have strayed from what this front office has done going on four years now.

Now where this front office has made investments in the bullpen is via trades. In the first trade the Friedman-led front office made with the Dodgers, he acquired Joel Peralta and Adam Liberatore. Over the years, they’ve also acquired the likes of Luis Avilan, Jesse ChavezTony Cingrani, Josh Fields, Chris Hatcher, Jim Johnson, and Tony Watson. Additionally, the Dodgers had a deal for Aroldis Chapman that infamously (and rightly) fell through. Still, for the most part, the reliever trades weren’t exactly flashy either.

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While Friedman and company aren’t afraid to invest in the bullpen, they won’t invest significant money into it — especially on the free agent market. With that in mind, I’ve identified some relievers who shouldn’t require a large financial investment but could help the Dodgers.

RHP Seung-hwan Oh

This is the big one here. Oh, 35, debuted at 33 with the Cardinals in 2016, and he was downright dominant. He had a 1.92 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 32.9 K% and 2.6 WAR. His second year, however, wasn’t good. He regressed to a 4.10 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 20.5 K% and 0.1 WAR. Oh suffered a hamstring injury during the season that hindered his performance, but his slider — which was so good in his debut season — stopped sliding.

From Viva El Birdos:

“So, what has been different with Oh’s slider? Other than being thrown slightly softer (85.98 MPH versus 86.29 MPH), the pitch is experiencing a smaller magnitude of dragless horizontal movement this season (vertical movement is similar). In 2016, the pitch averaged 3.38 inches of glove-side horizontal movement. Thus far in 2017, its average is only 2.07 inches — which is counter-intuitive considering it’s being thrown at a slower velocity. Again, while the difference in movement may seem slight, it’s of major importance for a deceptive pitcher like Oh. When a particular pitch is experiencing less movement, location becomes even more important. In 2016, Oh was consistently enticing hitters to chase out of the zone. So far in 2017, that isn’t happening, and he has been forced to bring the pitch into the strike zone. Given its limited movement profile, this has left the pitch susceptible to being hit hard by opponents (as already referenced above).”

Basically, Oh’s slider began to get pummeled and the Cardinals’ coaching staff wasn’t able to correct it, but maybe a fresh pair of eyes — one of the best in the sport — could have a positive impact on him. He made $6 million last season, but it shouldn’t take that much to get him to sign, even if some of Baseball Twitter is pumping him up as a buy-low candidate.

RHP Shae Simmons

Simmons, 27, was sent to Mariners in July as part of the Mallex Smith/Luiz Gohara swap. He missed the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery after debuting with Atlanta in 2014. In 36 career MLB innings, Simmons has a 3.50 ERA, 3.22 FIP, 23.6 K% and 10.4 BB%. He’s a little wild, but he also owns a mid-90s fastball (even after surgery), a low-to-mid-80s slider and he has shown a cut fastball. If you’ve noticed anything about Dodger pitchers — before or after they’ve been acquired — it’s that they like the cutter. The biggest negative with Simmons is health. He had a flexor strain last season that caused him to miss the vast majority of the 2017 season. If Simmons is brought in, he’d be more of a project in terms of getting healthy and hopefully contributing.

LHP Ian Krol

Another hard-thrower, this time from the left side. Krol, 26, wasn’t particularly good in 2017: 5.33 ERA, 5.01 FIP, and 10.7 K-BB%. He also allowed eight home runs in 49 innings of work, but there’s some good with Krol. He had a nearly 20 percent K-BB rate and had a 2.91 FIP in 51 innings in 2016. Last season, he saw his slider usage spike to nearly 40 percent, and his 4-seam fastball usage dropped more than 17 percent. It’s almost the opposite of what happened with Cingrani when the Dodgers acquired him at the trade deadline last season. Perhaps going back to using the fastball more might yield better results.

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Then there are a few guys on the minor-league side who could make some sense. All of these guys appear on Chris Mitchell’s KATOH post over at FanGraphs.

But before we start, it’s worth noting the Dodgers have already nabbed one of the Top 5 on the list in Jesen Therrien. The right-hander was in the Phillies’ organization before they let him go. The wrinkle here is he’s going to miss all of 2018 recovering from — you guessed it — Tommy John surgery. Therrien was signed to a 2-year minor-league deal, as the Dodgers are playing the long game with him.

RHP Richard Rodriguez

“Rodriguez was lights out for Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate this year, recording a 2.42 ERA and 28% strikeout rate out of the bullpen. He got lit up in his five big-league appearances, however, and was outrighted to the minors midway through his September call-up.”

RHP Kevin Comer

“Unlike most of the names here, Comer was actually a prospect once upon a time. The Blue Jays took him 57th overall back in 2012 before trading him to Houston a year later. Comer slowly worked his way through Houston’s system and spent most of 2017 pitching in relief at the Triple-A level. Surely, someone will scoop up this 25-year-old who struck out 27% of batters in the upper levels in 2017.”

RHP Luis Diaz

“I covered Diaz in this space last year after he pitched reasonably well as a 24-year-old starter at Double-A. He ultimately signed with the Angels and rattled off 17 scoreless innings to start 2017. Diaz didn’t fare quite as well following a promotion to Triple-A, though, where his ERA, FIP and xFIP all crested 5.00. Nonetheless, Diaz is a 6-foot-4 25-year-old who posted solid strikeout and walk rates as a starter in the high minors.”

RHP Mark Montgomery

“A former Yankees relief prospect, Montgomery was very effective out of the bullpen in Triple-A this year. In 67 innings with St. Louis’ Triple-A affiliate, he pitched to a stellar 2.43 ERA and struck out 27% of opposing batters.”

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There’s every possibility the Dodgers could go after a Matt Albers, Joaquin BenoitJared Hughes or Addison Reed, but I’m not really expecting it. I’d like to see them bring Watson and his hard-contact limiting ways back, but I’m not confident they’ll do that either. They will add to the roster, but unless they’re going to trade for a Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Kelvin Herrera, Joakim SoriaJunichi TazawaArodys Vizcaino or Brad Ziegler, the Dodgers will likely make marginal upgrades or take a chance on one of the MLB free agents listed above.

Ultimately though, they have plenty of internal arms who could fill out the bullpen. While guys like Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda could very well find themselves in the bullpen come October, guys like Trevor Oaks, Josh Sborz, Yaisel Sierra and Brock Stewart — just to name a few — could see some time in the Dodgers’ bullpen during the season.

Bullpens are notoriously fickle, and Friedman and company go about building their bullpen in a way that most teams don’t. That method has generally been effective so far, but sometimes the additions are not the most obvious ones. So we’ll see what happens going forward, but there will be roster moves. I promise. You’ll just have to be patient.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.