Wei-Yin Chen, Perhaps a Partial Answer to the Dodgers Rotation Problem

The Dodgers have holes in their rotation this winter. Obviously. But they do next winter, too, when Brett Anderson is a free agent. Sure, it’s possible that Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu are both fully healed and can be counted upon to join Clayton Kershaw, and that Julio Urias and Jose De Leon and Jharel Cotton have all arrived and the Dodgers have too many starters. It’s also far, far more possible that little or none of that actually happens. That’s part of the reason that losing Zack Greinke hurts; you have to fill his spot for the next few years, too.

And as we all know, Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t make it to LA, and Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Mike Leake, etc., didn’t. So while we all expect that the Dodgers are going to still make a few moves — signing Kenta Maeda seems possible, and a trade is always likely — I thought I’d point you towards former Oriole Wei-Yin Chen, who shares some strong similarities with this winter’s second-tier starting market, and may be on the Dodgers’ radar:

$100 million doesn’t buy what it used to. If you compare Chen’s 2015 stats to fellow free agents Jordan Zimmermann (5/$110M) and Jeff Samardzija (5/$90M), you begin to understand where Boras is coming from.

Chen (age 29 in 2015): 3.34 ERA / 4.16 FIP / 19.3 K% / 5.2 BB%
Samardzija (30): 4.96 ERA / 4.23 FIP / 17.9 K% / 5.4 BB%
Zimmermann (29): 3.66 ERA / 3.75 FIP / 19.7 K% / 4.7 BB%

The difference isn’t in age; Chen is six months younger than Samardzija and less than a year older than Zimmermann. It’s not about the qualifying offer; all three received and declined one. When Boras sells Chen as a pitcher who deserves $100 million, he’s got a leg to stand on in this market. He can even look back to last year, when Rick Porcello, coming off a similar 3.43/3.67/15.4%/4.9% season, received a four-year, $82.5 million extension. (Porcello was several years younger, but also didn’t have the benefit of the open market to shop himself in.)

Let’s push it back further than just one season and compare Chen’s last three seasons with that of fellow free agent Mike Leake, who has been rumored to be looking for at least $80 million.

Chen, 2013-15: 3.61 ERA / 4.03 FIP / 18.4 K% / 5.4 BB%
Leake, 2013-15: 3.59 ERA / 4.03 FIP / 16.3 K% / 5.9 BB %

Leake is two years younger and gets more grounders while Chen is a fly-ball pitcher, but these performances are nearly identical otherwise. The point is that Chen fits squarely within this group in terms of production, even being able to market himself as the only lefty other than Scott Kazmir remaining on the market, and it’s easy to make the argument that he deserves to be paid like it.

Chen, entering his age-30 season, has been pretty durable as an Oriole, and any time he’s missed hasn’t been due to arm issues. The point of the MLB.com article I linked was not that Chen is worth $100 million (and a draft pick), because he’s not. It’s that despite his lack of name value, he’s very similar to those pitchers who have earned $80m-$100m this winter, and despite what Scott Boras says, it’s not that likely he actually gets it.

Now, is it ideal to have four lefties (Kershaw, Anderson, Chen [or Scott Kazmir, if they go that direction], and Alex Wood), or even five if Ryu returns? Of course not. But I’m not sure that would prevent them from acquiring talent, and Ryu absolutely can’t be counted upon, and it’s easy enough to move Wood if needed, and the only righty starters left are Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, and Doug Fister, all various levels of “meh.” (Though I do like the idea of buying low on Fister.) It’d be nice to sign Maeda and trade for a righty like Jake Odorizzi or Carlos Carrasco; it’s just easier said than done, which is the main lesson of this winter to date.

Anyway, the takeaway here: This guy is pretty good, he’s durable, he’d be around for a few years, and he may be likely to be available for less than he’s worth. At this point, it’s no longer what you wanted the offseason to be when it began. It’s what you can do to make the best of what’s left.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.