After Kershaw, Dodgers’ Rotation Remains Team’s Biggest Question

The offseason has been pretty slow thus far for the Dodgers. While we all anxiously await any bit of news or rumor to keep us entertained, the Dodgers baseball gods have failed to do so.

There have been rumors that have connected the Dodgers to several free agents, and discussions about possibly trading to acquire a pitcher to add to the rotation have been reported as well.

ICYMI: Kenley Jansen Ranks Among MLB’s Elite Relief Pitchers

All the rumors linking the Dodgers to starting pitchers come for good reason: They need help.

It is important to note that some moves have been made. The qualifying offers that the Dodgers extended toward pending free agents Howie Kendrick, Zack Greinke, and Brett Anderson have all either been accepted or rejected. As expected, Kendrick and Greinke both declined their qualifying offers. However, Brett Anderson accepted his qualifying offer of one year, for $15.8 million.

When he signed with the Dodgers last winter on a one year, $10 million deal, there were questions if the signing was smart given Anderson’s injury history. In what may have been somewhat of a surprise, Anderson started thirty-one games for the Dodgers while performing well above what any of us could have ever expected. Whatever questions fans had about Anderson and his volatility, he certainly answered.

He posted an ERA of 3.69 and was worth 1.5 wins above replacement (WAR). Following his first healthy season since 2009, Brett Anderson may have best been set up for a long term deal. However, Anderson is betting on himself in 2016.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

When the news came about Anderson accepting his qualifying offer, it once again brought some uneasiness to Dodgers nation. Had Anderson rejected his offer and signed with another team, the Dodgers would have been compensated with a draft pick. That said, this set of circumstances was a win-win scenario, and would have been acceptable for the Dodgers had Anderson decided to do so.

With Anderson now set up to contribute in the starting rotation once again in 2016, the Dodgers will have decisions to make when setting up their rotation.  The number of pitchers that will be considered to be part of the Opening Day rotation continues to rise, and the possible additions of free agent pitchers, or pitchers acquired via trade, also need to be acknowledged.

Bottom line: there are a lot of decisions to make by April. They need to act in the offseason as if the arms they already have under contract, with the exception of Clayton Kershaw, are all subject to be replaced with potential upgrades.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine what the Dodgers rotation will look like on Opening Day. However, before free agency begins, we are going to highlight the pitchers who will be considered for the Dodgers starting rotation in 2016.

Jayne Kaymin-Oncea
Jayne Kaymin-Oncea

The Candidates:

Clayton Kershaw – Kersh will lead the Dodgers pitching staff once again and will be the Opening Day starter for the sixth straight season.

Brett Anderson – The Dodgers will hope to get another healthy year out of the 27-year-old Anderson. Steamer projects a 2016 campaign comparable to Anderson’s 2015 season. Such a season would be welcomed by Dodgers fans, who all were more than satisfied with the results he produced in 2015.

Alex Wood – Alex Wood was extremely inconsistent when he was traded from the Braves to the Dodgers — and admitted being traded could at least partially be to blame. There were starts where Wood showed promise, and others where a lot of Dodgers fans wondered why they had acquired him in the first place. Wood is still young, and he has a very team-friendly contract. In fact, Wood is just owed the league minimum, $500,000, in 2016.

With the shock of being traded behind him, Dodgers fans can fairly safely count on Wood contributing in 2016 as of now.

Hyun-Jin Ryu – If there was one guy we missed in the playoffs, it was you, Hyun-Jin. Ryu missed all of 2015 with a torn labrum, and while his return is still uncertain, I imagine we can expect him to be healthy at the start of the season. While it’s impossible to predict health, there’s still no reason to believe he won’t be there available by Opening Day.

The amount of success Ryu has is a completely different conversation. The success after returning from a torn labrum is much inferior when compared to recovering from a torn UCL. While he has pitched spectacularly every healthy season for the Dodgers, it will be hard to predict how successful he will be after his shoulder injury.

Seeing as, when healthy, he’s been a steady third starter, he’d be a tough loss for the rotation, and it doesn’t get much prettier after that.

Mike Bolsinger – The diamond in the rough that seemed to always evade the Dodgers was finally found in Mike Bolsinger and his 2015 season. Bolsinger’s curveball was a big reason of why he was so successful in 2015. Everything that Bolsinger gave to the Dodgers in 2015 was icing on the cake. The Dodgers will undoubtedly look to upgrade over Bolsinger, but he will once again be counted on if there are injuries in the starting rotation.

Brandon McCarthy – Brandon McCarthy tore his UCL after only four starts in 2015 and required Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss majority of the 2015 season. Dodgers fans were quite vocal when expressing their unhappiness with the contract that the front office gave him last offseason, and his eventual injury didn’t do much to quell that criticism.

McCarthy had his surgery in April, and should be expected to return around June. Having been through the rehab required after undergoing Tommy John surgery, I should note recovery times are different for everybody. Setbacks occur frequently, and some players heal quicker than others.

Still, Dodgers fans should operate under the assumption McCarthy is not an option for the Opening Day rotation at this point, and view him as a midseason upgrade should the Dodgers need him.

Carlos Frias – Frias throws baseballs hard, and did start a handful of games for the Dodgers in 2015. However, he would be a much better option out of the bullpen for the Dodgers going forward. Jose De Leon

Jose de Leon – The coveted top prospect we’re all anxious to see. The casual fan may not know much about de Leon, but this kid is going to be good. He misses so many bats and his strikeout percentage is just ridiculous. There has been talk about the Dodgers failing to produce a quality homegrown arm since Clayton Kershaw, and those points have substance, obviously. de Leon would go a long way in altering that narrative.

If the Dodgers were to only resign Zack Greinke, or were to only add one other free agent pitcher this offseason, the chances for JDL to make the rotation would significantly increase.

Julio Urias – No, I do not expect Urias to start for the Dodgers in 2016. However, I am sure his name will pop its popular head quite frequently this offseason in reference to being a possible option to do so. He is the best left-handed prospect in major league baseball, but is still only 19 years old. Urias is a player Dodgers Nation should be really excited about, but patience will need to be exercised with him.

Like de Leon, Urias should have a shot to compete for the fifth spot if the Dodgers do not sign more than one free agent starter. However, it is likely the Dodgers continue to develop Urias again in 2016 at the minor league level for at least this season.

Zach Lee – For the record, I was once the biggest Zach Lee fan I knew. His stock as a prospect and major leaguer has significantly fallen since he was drafted in the first round by the Dodgers in 2010.

Lee certainly looks the part, but he isn’t nearly as projectable as de Leon or Urias. The edge Lee may have over de Leon and Urias is that he is further along in his career, and a bit more developed at this point. It is possible he could start the season as the fifth starter in the Dodgers rotation, only to be removed once de Leon or Urias is ready to contribute.

That’s quite a drop for someone once considered immovable because of his once prodigious potential.

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