The Dodgers will enter the season without a designated closer for the first time in a very long time. We talk a lot about the departures of guys like Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger leaving LA this past offseason, and guys like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Enrique Hernandez before them. But one of the bigger names that has left the Dodgers in recent years is Kenley Jansen.
Kenley is the all-time franchise leader in saves, with 350 over 12 seasons in blue. He anchored a bullpen that was usually in the top-5 in ERA for a decade and left a sizeable void at the back end of games that Craig Kimbrel absolutely could not fill.
Now with both gone, the Dodgers plan on relying on a closer by committee approach to start the season. Andrew Friedman didn’t do much to bolster what was already a good bullpen by the numbers in 2022 (2.87 ERA, tops in the NL). And the lack of a splashy move may have cost the team a little more love in the eyes of one MLB writer.
In a recent column on MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince ranked the top 10 bullpens all around baseball. The Dodgers landed outside of the top-5 at number 6 and Castrovince doesn’t really explain his logic behind the placement.
The Dodgers bring back a lot of the same faces responsible for the second-best relief ERA (2.87) in MLB last season. Veteran Daniel Hudson, who won’t be ready for Opening Day as he comes back from a torn ACL, isn’t listed above but figures to have a big role here eventually. Phillips’ terrific 2022 (1.14 ERA, 5.13 K/BB) was the perfect example of how the Dodgers extract value from unexpected sources.
Same with Vesia, a low-profile trade acquisition who has become an integral member of this ‘pen the past two years. The X-factor here might be the veteran Miller. The Dodgers took a flier on him after he struck out 14 batters in only seven innings for the Giants last season. Long story short: The Dodgers typically have a good bullpen and will again.Via MLB.com
If the Dodgers were so good last season and brought so many of the same pieces back, why wouldn’t they be higher on the list? Well, outside of five teams maybe, perhaps, possibly having better relief staffs to work with, one thing working dangerously against LA to start the season is a lack of depth.
The bullpen on opening day will look like this:
RHP Evan Phillips, RHP Brusdar Graterol, RHP Yency Almonte, RHP Shelby Miller, RHP Phil Bickford, RHP Andre Jackson, LHP Alex Vesia, LHP Caleb Ferguson.
If any of those guys gets hurt, the guys that would fill in for them had terrible springs and haven’t been exceptional at the big league level. Of the healthy options opening the season at Triple-A, Victor Gonzalez has struggled since his dominant 2020 run and, thanks to injuries, barely pitched in 2022. Justin Bruihl is decent but far from anything to write home about.
And that’s it. Those are the healthy options on the 40-man roster.
Off the roster but still in the organization, are guys like Wander Suero, who had a nice spring and was in the running for an opening day role. Tyler Cyr, Dylan Covey, and Tayler Scott all have big league experience but are not what you would define as good pitchers.
All the best bullpen depth for the Dodgers will open the season on the injured list, some of whom may not even make it back this year. Daniel Hudson is expected to be back sometime in April, which should be a massive addition. Jimmy Nelson would be on the opening day roster if he could find the strike zone, so he’ll start the season on the IL. Then later in the season, the reinforcements could come with Alex Reyes, J.P. Feyereisen, Blake Treinen, and possibly even Walker Buehler.
The Dodgers will be walking a tightrope over the first few weeks in April. If one thing goes wrong, a whole lot can go wrong pretty quickly.