In a trio of understandably overlooked moves, the Dodgers signed relievers Dale Thayer, Sam LeCure, and Sean Burnett in the past week to bolster the bullpen depth in the minors. Both Thayer and LeCure have standard minor-league contracts, but Burnett has a May 1 opt-out in his minor-league deal.
From 2011-14, Thayer posted an ERA of 3.04 over 198.1 innings, striking out 8.1 per nine and issuing 2.3 walks per nine. Of course, there was a reason he was without a job in 2016. Thayer posted a career-worst 4.06 ERA in 2015, and his peripherals regressed to 6.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. More importantly than that, his fastball velocity checked in at 91.9 mph, which was two full ticks off his 2012 peak at 93.9 mph, which was probably something related to the shoulder injury he suffered around mid-season. If he’s healthy again, Thayer has proven to be an effective middle reliever, but at 35, the odds are against him coming all the way back. Probably not gonna hurt to take a flier on him and see how he pans out, though.
LeCure is in a similar boat to Thayer in that he posted a 2.89 ERA from 2012-13, striking out 9.7 batters per nine, but in 2014-15 his ERA was a more average 3.64 and he struck out 7.4 batters per nine. LeCure spent most of 2015 in the minors for the Reds, and despite a quality 3.15 ERA in 20 major-league innings, he had a 5.25 ERA in AAA. Additionally, his fastball is a full two ticks slower in 2014-15 than it was in 2012-13, so unless he regains that in his age-32 season, he seems more like an organizational player than anything else at this stage.
In 56.2 innings in 2012, Burnett posted a 2.38 ERA and 9.1 K/9 to only 1.9 BB/9. Since then, he hasn’t pitched more than 10 innings in a season in the majors and missed 2015 entirely with arm injuries. Still, Burnett probably has the best chance to impact the major-league squad, as he posted 8.2 scoreless innings in Spring Training with the Nationals, allowing only six hits and a walk against seven strikeouts.
Burnett is still around two ticks down on his fastball from 2012, but at age 33 he finally seems to be back to health, and if J.P. Howell is gonna be throwing 85 mph with inferior secondary pitches, then Burnett might have a decent shot of making the pen.
Unless any of the three guys above have some type of velocity resurgence, them making the Dodgers bullpen would have to be considered concerning. Out of the three, Burnett is the only pitcher who I think could be major-league quality, but even if makes the pen that means that Luis Avilan and Adam Liberatore were considered inferior options. That … would be an issue.
Still, besides the whining about acquiring depth (which is a thing, for whatever reason), there are worse safe guards against mass bullpen injuries, and there’s minimal downside in taking a flier on this trio.