So, this is a pretty good start to a rotation:
1) Clayton Kershaw
2) Zack Greinke
3) Hyun-jin Ryu
4) Dan Haren
The top two are almost unarguably the best duo in the game, with only Detroit posing any real argument there. The top three has to be in the conversation. The top four, well, it’s still really good because of the top three, and lots of teams have concerns with their #4.
And then you’ve got this collection of misfit toys for #5:
Josh Beckett (coming off surgery and a severe case of “terrible”)
Chad Billingsley (coming off Tommy John surgery, not available through May or June)
Matt Magill (mostly atrocious in the bigs in 2013)
Stephen Fife (surprisingly decent before second-half collapse)
Zach Lee (yet to pitch above Double-A)
Ross Stripling (yet to pitch above Double-A)
Chris Reed (yet to pitch above Double-A, probably not a starter)
Can you cobble together a fifth starter from those seven men? Absolutely. More than absolutely. In fact, a fun thought exercise — one that I have no intention of actually doing, mind you — would be to see if a rotation made up of only those guys would be better than any other team’s full rotation. So yeah, you can get a fifth starter from there. But should you? That’s the question, because while I felt that the Masahiro Tanaka chase was more a case of “ooh, something shiny, I must obtain it!” than “we really, really need another starter,” we keep hearing rumors that the team feels otherwise.
You can see the argument, really. Having one of those guys pitch as the fifth starter is perfectly fine, but as we learned so well last year, it’s not exactly a stretch to think that something happens to one of the top four — whether it’s Haren’s aches and pains, or an unexpected assault by a certain San Diego outfielder — and now, suddenly, you’ve got two of those guys in the rotation. And if the member of the top four who went down wasn’t Haren, then 60% of your rotation is say, Haren, Beckett, and Magill, and that quickly becomes terrifying.
So, sure, you can see the potential need, but then, it’s also a matter of who would you bring in. You can cross off Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez right now; not only are the Dodgers unlikely to surrender the draft pick that the latter two would cost, but there are so many teams who didn’t get Tanaka who are now desperate for pitching that this questionable trio is about to get paid, and then some. You can toss David Price in there as well, probably, because it seems more likely than not that Tampa Bay will just keep him for 2014, and it’s hard to see Stan Kasten allowing a farm system that he’s so proud of rebuilding simply get decimated.
Beyond that? Well, we’ve been down the Chris Capuano road before. Bruce Chen or Joe Saunders or Paul Maholm or Jason Hammel? Fine, whatever. Bronson Arroyo? Terrifying, though perhaps not as terrifying as you might think, simply because he’s so durable and reliable, but he’s going to want a multi-year deal, and I wouldn’t give him more than one year.
But then there’s also this: because of the early season opener in Australia and some off-days, the Dodgers can get through most of April without even needing a fifth starter. For example, the rotation could work out like this:
3/22 @ ARI: Kershaw
3/23 @ ARI: Greinke
3/30 @ SD: Kershaw
4/1 @ SD: Greinke
4/2 @ SD: Ryu
4/4 vs SF: Haren
4/5 vs SF: Kershaw
4/6 vs SF: Greinke
4/8 vs DET: Ryu
4/9 vs DET: Haren
4/11 @ ARI: Kershaw
4/12 @ ARI: Greinke
4/13 @ ARI: Ryu
4/15 @ SF: Haren
4/16 @ SF: Kershaw
4/17 @ SF: Greinke
4/18 vs ARI: Ryu
4/19 vs ARI: #5!
Even that might be conservative, because that April 4 game against San Francisco that I have “Haren” listed for could actually be Kershaw, since that’s his regular day (and the home opener), though I imagine they’d rather give him the extra day rather than have Haren sit idle forever. With another day off on April 28, the Dodgers could very easily get through the entire month needing to start their #5 guy only twice, and perhaps that’s a situation that would either make a decent free agent hesitate or make Haren unhappy, were he pushed into that role.
So what you have here is a need that’s not exactly a critical one, and outside alternatives who probably aren’t all that preferable to what you already have. My guess is that there won’t be a true “#5 starter” in 2014, but rather a rotating mix. That is, Beckett can get the first crack, and hold it for as long as he’s able, and by then maybe Billingsley is back, or Lee is deserving of a shot, or Fife fixes what broke last summer, and if none of that works, well, this team has the resources to go find 2014’s Ricky Nolasco during the season.
I get, of course, how naive that sounds after last year, but then I do look at last year as a unique situation. Everyone knew Billingsley’s elbow was going to blow up. No one thought Capuano or Ted Lilly were really staying healthy all year. Greinke, well, fine, no one saw that coming. But when you can list 11 rotation options in January, that’s not a terrible place to be.