A look at some 2023 free-agent starting pitchers the Dodgers could pursue

Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Via)

Starting pitching has long since been a staple for the Dodgers. It has been since integration, and has been over the last 11 years. But the Dodgers’ plans for 2023 didn’t pan out.

In the team’s recent 11-year run, this is, unquestionably, the worst the Dodgers’ rotation has been. The rotation’s 4.06 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, 1.24 HR/9 and 88.7 MPH exit velocity against were all the worst of any of the previous 10 iterations. Its 15.5 K-BB% was also second-worst in the last 11 years. It wasn’t great, partly because of injuries and partly because of under-performance.

They signed Noah Syndergaard in hopes of fixing him, but they didn’t and they shipped him to Cleveland at the trade deadline. They traded for Lance Lynn out of desperation before the trade deadline, only for him to give up four home runs in an inning against the Diamondbacks in what ended up being the last game of the Dodgers’ season. And just so we’re not citing a small sample size, he had a 4.36 ERA and 6.16 FIP in 64 2/3 innings after the trade. He was bad. They even brought in Ryan Yarbrough in hopes of providing some stability, but he’s more of a soft-tossing swingman than a 180-inning starter.

This was prompted because the Dodgers’ starting pitching was in shambles by midseason. They never had Walker Buehler, who was recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. Dustin May went down in mid-May with a UCL/flexor tendon injury that required surgery and will likely keep him out until after the All-Star Break. Tony Gonsolin — seemingly not healthy all season after a late start and diminished velocity — is going to miss 2024 because of TJ surgery. Julio Urias was accused, again, of domestic violence that might very well end his MLB career. And Clayton Kershaw spent some time on the injured list for the 8th consecutive season, finishing the year clearly diminished. That’s not unexpected for a guy who has logged as many innings as he has in his career.

The kids did an admirable job in trying to fill the holes left by the veterans. Bobby Miller was the team’s ace by season’s end, which is encouraging for the future. Emmet Sheehan was a somewhat surprise call-up who showed flashes of his potential. Ryan Pepiot was impressive in limited work due to injury. Gavin Stone‘s debut was short-lived because he got knocked around. Michael Grove probably isn’t a starter at this point, but he gets a mention by default.

The kids remaining on the farm who are somewhat close to the majors include Kyle Hurt, Landon Knack, Nick Frasso and River Ryan. All solid prospects, but I’m not expecting them to come in next season and save the rotation — and neither should you.

The bottom line is, the Dodgers need to work on the starting pitching staff for 2024 and beyond. Here’s a look at some of the free-agent arms who could make sense.


Shohei Ohtani

Obviously. Ohtani is not going to pitch in 2024 because he might need another TJ procedure. When he’s healthy, he’s really good. Since his rookie season, here is where he ranks among MLB starting pitchers:

  • 3.01 ERA (7th)
  • 3.31 FIP (16th)
  • 3.29 xFIP (12th)
  • 31.2 K% (7th)
  • 22.3 K-BB% (10th)
  • .198 BAA (8th)
  • 87.3 EVA (19th)

The counter to this is, his 481 2/3 innings put him in the same company as Jose Urena, Adrian Houser and old friend Ross Stripling. That’s not a slight against them, but each of them have either spent time hurt or in the bullpen, while Ohtani has been hurt and pitches once every six days instead of five. He’s the ultimate high-risk option for 2025 and beyond, but you’re also buying the bat, so it might be worth it.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Get used to the name, folks. The 25-year-old Japanese phenom is heading stateside, and the Dodgers could get in on the bidding.

The source is Bob Nightengale, so take it with a grain of salt, but Daniel made a good point on Twitter.

I’m sure we’ll do a more in-depth post on Yamamoto is the near future, but he’s a legitimate top-of-the-rotation prospect who would help the transition from what the Dodgers have had in the rotation over the last decade to what they’ll have for the next decade.

Sonny Gray

The Dodgers have been linked — by fans — to Gray since the Dodgers passed on him in favor of Chris Reed in the 2011 MLB Draft. If the current regime of Billy Gasparino and friends had been in charge of that draft for LA, the Dodgers very well might have popped the Vanderbilt University alumnus. But then maybe Logan White doesn’t grab Corey Seager with the 18th pick the following year. Oh, hindsight is so fun!

But Gray, 34 next month, is coming of a really strong season with the Twins (2.79 ERA, MLB-leading 2.83 FIP, 17 K-BB%) that has him in contention for the AL Cy Young. He could be in line for a shorter-term, higher-AAV deal, which fits Andrew Friedman‘s MO. But he could also get a 5-year deal with a high AAV, which would probably deter Friedman from seriously pursuing him.

Blake Snell

Snell, 31, doesn’t make as much as he would for other teams, because the potential NL Cy Young Award winner is going to get a lucrative payday, and I’m not sure the Dodgers would give him the money and term he’s going to end up getting on the open market. Still, it’s hard to ignore his MLB-leading 2.25 ERA, 3.44 FIP and 18.2 K-BB%. I’m sure the Dodgers will do their due diligence, but Snell seems like a longshot to land in LA.

Aaron Nola

A Phillies mainstay since being the 7th overall selection in the 2014 draft, Nola has been an innings-eater for five of the last six seasons. He still misses bats, but he posted his second-highest ERA (4.46) and highest full-season FIP (4.03) of his career in 2023. The 30-year-old’s contract demands and performance might not sync up with what the Dodgers are looking for, even if he has averaged nearly 200 innings in five of the last six seasons (the one being the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign). That might seem like it’d make sense for LA, the fact that he has all those innings on his arm might make the Dodgers think about the wear and tear on Kershaw from 2010-15 that saw him average 222 innings per season. I might be reaching, but it could be something to consider when thinking about Nola as a Dodgers’ offseason target.

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty is one of the younger pitchers (28) available in free agency, and he has Dodgers’ reclamation project written all over him. The Southern California native is coming off a mediocre season that saw him post a 4.99 ERA, 4.36 FIP and and pedestrian 12.6 K-BB%. He went to Orioles in a trade deadline deal from the Cardinals that saw his peripherals improve a bit, but not to the point where he’s the guy he was in 2018-19. An incentive-laden 1-year deal (maybe with an option) could make sense, seeing as the Dodgers grab a guy like this seemingly every offseason.

Hyun Jin Ryu

Monster! After a solid first couple seasons with the Blue Jays, Ryu dealt with injuries (including TJ) that limited him to just 79 innings total over the last two seasons. He hasn’t been the guy he once was (4.22 ERA, 4.87 FIP, 10.7 K-BB%), but he could be in the reclamation project category as well.

Kenta Maeda

While we’re talking about old friends, we might as well mention Maeda, too. The 35-year-old also performed well after leaving the Dodgers before succumbing to injuries. However, Maeda has fared much better than Ryu when coming back from his injuries, as he posted a 4.23 ERA, 4.01 FIP and 20.8 K-BB% in 2023 after missing all of the 2022 season. He’ll get a more lucrative deal than Ryu or Flaherty, which might push him out of any potential Dodger reunion.


Here are some other intriguing — in their own ways — free agents (age in parenthesis):

*Recovering from TJ surgery.
**Recovering from shoulder surgery.

Some interesting arms there. Some are gonna get paid (Montgomery), while some are guys the Dodgers have been linked to in some way in the past (Carrasco, Paxton, Wood). It wouldn’t be surprising to see them end up with one of these guys this winter.


If you look at the current SP depth chart for the Dodgers, it’s not pretty:

  1. Miller
  2. Buehler
  3. Sheehan
  4. Pepiot
  5. Yarbrough
  6. Grove
  7. Stone
  8. Hurt
  9. Knack
  10. Ryan
  11. Frasso

So, it could be argued the Dodgers need at least a couple guys listed above — probably a top-tier, non-Ohtani guy (Yamamoto, Nola, Snell) and one mid-tier/reclamation guy (Flaherty, Maeda, Ryu), as well as a potential lottery ticket.

With the offense and bullpen in solid shape, I’d expect a lot of time, energy and resources to go into the Dodgers’ hunt for starting pitching, because what happened this season cannot happen again if they want to be considered legit World Series contenders.

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.