Dodgers should sign Robert Stephenson to cap incredible, expensive offseason

It has been an offseason for the ages for the Dodgers. They’ve landed the best and then one of the remaining best free agents available, a slugging corner outfielder to help with their left-handed pitching issues and even found Michael Busch a home. They could probably use another starting pitcher (non-Clayton Kershaw division), but it wouldn’t be surprising if they waited until the trade deadline to address that — especially since it looks like they’re going to employ a 6-man rotation to begin the season.

For now, they could use one more thing to be the proverbial cherry atop this offseason sundae: A bullpen arm.

Sure, it’d be nice if it were a lefty. Sure, some folks want Josh Hader (#notmymoney). But I have my eye on one of the most underrated relievers in baseball — one who does some things better than any other reliever.

It’s Robert Stephenson.

Stephenson, 31 next month, was a 1st-round pick of the Reds back in 2011 MLB Draft — the Chris Reed draft! He debuted in 2016 and through the 2020 season (2019 notwithstanding), it looked like he was a bust. A trade to the Rockies, of all teams, helped turn his career around. Since 2021, he has pitched for the Rox, Pirates and Rays. The Rays, unsurprisingly, were able to tap into Stephenson’s potential and help him be an elite reliever after he came over in a June trade with Pittsburgh.

It’s actually surprising that he’s still available. The Dodgers, reportedly, showed some interest in him early on in free agency, but they were too busy assembling the other Infinity Stones to focus on him at the time — at least, that’s what I’m gonna tell myself. I guess that’d make Stephenson the Mind Stone of this Dodgers’ offseason?

Anyway, the Dodgers had seemingly began focusing more on contact/ground ball rate over strikeout rate back in 2020.


A couple of outliers: The COVID-shortened 2020 season saw the Dodgers’ relievers post their highest ground ball and lowest strikeout percentages. The 2022 season saw them post the second-highest strikeout rate of the Andrew Friedman era, and the third-highest ground ball rate.

That’s probably where the Dodgers want to live when it comes to relievers. Stephenson’s career 33.8 GB% doesn’t fit one of those columns, but his bat-missing ability definitely fits the second. Hey, not everyone can be Joe Kelly!

Stephenson’s repertoire has undergone a bit of a transformation throughout his career. He came out of high school as a fastball-curveball-changeup guy (and a starting pitcher). Throughout the years, he has gone away from the 4-seam fastball significantly, all but ditched the curveball, increased slider usage, added a devastating cutter (once getting to Tampa Bay) and even added splitter (to replace the changeup). And while he didn’t throw enough to be qualified among the leaders, his Statcast profile is pretty red.

Seriously, how is this guy still a free agent? He checks a ton of boxes for a lot of teams, not just the Dodgers. He missed time last season with elbow inflammation, but that came early in the season and he definitely got over it to be healthy for the Rays. He also had elbow soreness in Spring Training, so perhaps that’s why teams are hesitant to pull the trigger.

Of course, the Dodgers are no strangers to taking risks on injured relievers (Daniel Hudson, Jimmy Nelson, Blake Treinen, et al), and with their emphasis on the sweeper and cutter — especially with relievers — adding Stephenson almost makes too much sense. They recently cleared two 40-man roster spots (one will go to Teoscar Hernandez) with yesterday’s trade, and traded an MLB reliever in Yency Almonte in the process. What better way to replace him than with one of the best relief pitchers available?


When the offseason began, MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Stephenson would get a 4-year, $36 million deal. I don’t see him getting that (especially the term), but a $9-11 AAV for a couple years (and maybe an option) would not be out of the question for further stability at the back end of the pen.

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.