Attempts by Dodgers to acquire premiere relievers have fallen short

The Dodgers’ bullpen has been a point of much contention for many years — but it’s been especially true in recent years. While lamenting the lack of upgrades, some have claimed the Dodgers haven’t tried to upgrade the bullpen in recent times, but that is just patently false.

Following the 2014 season, the Dodgers were interested in Andrew Miller. Chad wasn’t too keen on the idea of giving him a four-year contract given the track record of similar deals, and it was hard to blame him for feeling that way at the time.

“Even with recent moves for depth, the Dodgers bullpen is still lacking in shutdown arms behind Kenley Jansen, so it’s understandable that the Dodgers are in on marquee relievers. However, it’s not news that relievers signed to multi-year deals, much less four years, generally end up more worse than better. No matter how bulletproof a reliever appears to be, the inherent volatility due to sample size, health, and luck simply make long-term deals a risky proposition.

This is all not to say I’m flat-out against the Dodgers signing Miller, but there’s ample reason for pause and it’s hardly a slam-dunk guarantee that he’ll be the second closer at the back of the bullpen even in 2015, much less 2018. If Miller does end up in Blue, obviously I hope that he bucks the trend, but the length and dollars in the rumored contract are concerning, and that worry is backed by both Miller’s short history of elite performance and the history of the relievers on multi-year deals that came before him.”

In his first two seasons with the Yankees, Miller has been one of baseball’s best relievers. If the Dodgers had given him a four-year, $40 million deal, it probably would have been worth it.

But free agency is a two-way street. The player has to want to sign with a team. When rumors of the Yankees shopping Miller this winter cropped up, the Dodgers were connected. But the Dodgers didn’t sign Miller in large part because they didn’t want to pay a premium to get him to leave the East Coast.

“In the total package, there were things that the Yankees could offer me that no one else could. I live in Tampa (where the Yankees train). That’s two months at home that I don’t have otherwise … I love pitching in the AL East. I know you don’t hear that every day, but the best I have ever pitched is in that division (with the Red Sox and Orioles). I know the ballparks. I know the teams.”

But that doesn’t change the fact the Dodgers actually tried to get him, and that some factors outside their control stopped a deal from coming to fruition.

This past winter, the Dodgers tried for Darren O’Day, who had spent the previous four seasons with the Orioles.

He wanted to stay on the East Coast in large part because his wife works out of Washington D.C. for Fox News. Again, the whole “two-way street” thing comes into play here.

When O’Day fell through, Shawn Kelley was another logical target. He established himself as a solid reliever with the Yankees in 2013-14 before getting traded to the Padres at the end of the 2014 calendar year. He signed a lucrative $15 million, three-year deal with the Nationals. Like Miller and O’Day before him, Kelley wanted to remain on the East Coast.

The Dodgers also made two other attempts to upgrade the bullpen in the Andrew Friedman era.

The Dodgers actually offered Pat Neshek the most money two off-seasons ago, but Neshek opted to sign with the Astros. And then we all remember this attempt at an elite relief arm … it’s just too bad Aroldis Chapman turned out to be a fucking lunatic and the Dodgers did the right thing by pulling the plug on the deal.

So that’s four elite-level relievers (Chapman, Kelley, Miller, O’Day) and one solid middle reliever (Neshek) whom the Dodgers have targeted but simply fell short on. Thus, the Dodgers have needed to build the bullpen from within, which has obviously yielded mixed results. But short of trading premium prospects for what could equate to just marginal upgrades, the front office hasn’t been able to get any of the guys they have targeted primarily due to reasons out of their control.

Plans falling through is part of building a baseball team, but the narrative that the front office hasn’t done things to try and upgrade the pen has always been a false one. That said, the ability of the Dodgers to close out deals on bullpen help before the end of this season and during the upcoming off-season will be put to the test more than ever. Kenley Jansen is scheduled to be a free agent, and there isn’t an internal option anywhere near his ability level. So the front office is going to have to either have faith in the young guys/internal options, look to the free agent/trade market, or — and this makes the most sense — just extend/re-sign Jansen for whatever he wants.

Hopefully the front office finally figures out a way to close a deal with a reliever like Jansen, because the bullpen with Jansen in it but without help is scary as it is, but imagining the pen without him altogether is just not something any Dodger fan wants to think about for long.


Thanks to Mike for giving me the idea for this article.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.