The Dodgers Should Hang Onto Ted Lilly


Ted Lilly may have opened his big fat veteran mouth, and by doing so cost himself a spot on the Dodger’s active 25-man roster. The 37-year-old left hander has been on the disabled list since the season started. Lilly is one of the three extra surplus pitchers the Dodgers decided to hang onto coming into the 2013 season. Lilly, fellow left hander Chris Capuano, and right hander Aaron Harang, were all Dodger starters under contract and without roles on the big club.

Capuano was placed back into the rotation this week to replace the injured Zack Greinke, and will be starting on Tuesday, and Harang was traded to Colorado. Lilly however has been sidelined since the early part of spring training. He was unable to build up arm strength during the spring because of illness, general rustiness, and a couple of rainouts. Lilly is coming off of off-season shoulder surgery, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since May of 2012. At the time he was also having neck problems as well. Eventually his rustiness was too great to overcome, and he was unable to return to pitch in 2012.

Ted Lilly is super grumpy-Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of how annoyed the club is with Lilly, it may be wise to hang on to him for the time being. Only two of the three surplus starters remain with the club, and with Greinke down with injury, and Capuano taking his rotation spot, the Dodgers are now suddenly thin on extra starters. If anything were to happen, only Stephen Fife, and or Matt Magill, would be the likely break in case of emergency pitchers next on the depth chart.

Recently Ted Lilly told the Dodgers he does not want to do anymore minor league rehab assignments. Lilly just finished his second rehab stint with Albuquerque. Technically rehab assignments can last up to 30 days, so technically speaking, the Dodgers could enforce the full 30 days, and be within legal rights.

But Lilly has said he will refuse any future rehab starts. The Dodgers have said they want Lilly to pitch another two minor league rehab starts to make sure he’s built enough arm strength, and is healthy and prepared for the season. So folks, we have a good old fashioned Mexican stand-off here. Which side will blink first?

"“We don’t think he’s ready”~ Dodger Manager Don Mattingly on Ted Lilly"

For the Dodgers, they’re just trying to stall for time. I’m sure they would like to keep Lilly, just in case. However there is currently no spot on the roster for him at this time, and I know they don’t want to bump anyone else from the active roster.

Lilly told the club, that he would be willing to pitch out of the bullpen. The Dodgers have said that would be fine, but after he finishes his rehab assignments. The grumpy left hander told the club that he feels he is ready to pitch, whether that’s in relief, or as a starter, but he will not pitch anymore minor league games.

I don’t blame Lilly, sometimes players don’t need all of the rehab games the Dodgers love to force upon the players when their recovering from injury. It’s always best to listen to the big club, and finish the rehab games, but sometimes they can be pointless, and redundant. Besides, it’s just a stall tactic from the Dodgers, but who will call who’s bluff.

If the Dodgers want to, they can designate Lilly for assignment, and once he refuses a minor league assignment, he can be released. Or they can work out a trade for him to another team once he is designated. Or they may just end up putting him in the bullpen. Lilly is in the final year of a three year 33 million dollar contract. The Dodgers owe him 12 million dollars this season, and would be on the hook for the cash if they decide to release him. Of course they could always easily keep him. The decision would be simple. Bump Shawn Tolleson back to Albuquerque or Chattanooga, to make room for Lilly.

Lilly has actually been a very solid pitcher in the three years he has been with the Dodgers. Whether you agree or not, check out his numbers. In the three seasons with the Dodgers from 2010-2013, Lilly has posted a 24-19 record, a 3.75 ERA, and has nearly a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s racked up 266 whiffs while pitching in Blue, and walked only 85. Once the veteran lefty discovered some kind of new improved grip on his slider last season, it made his ability to keep the ball in the park improve by ten fold. He was able to use his newly upgraded slider as an out-pitch. Lilly only allowed three home runs in 2012. Lilly was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts in 2012, before being sidelined with the neck and shoulder injuries.

Those are very solid numbers for a backend starter. Lilly has had his problems with the long ball, increasing rustiness, and age, combined with declining strikeout numbers, and increasing walk rates are concerning, all of those reasons should make it very hard for the Dodgers to move him.

Ted Lilly-Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

If the Dodgers option Tolleson, and place Lilly on the roster, then they wouldn’t have to make another roster decision on the pitching staff until sometime in late May when Greinke is ready to return. Left hander Scott Elbert may be returning around the same time as well. The Dodgers wouldn’t have to worry about it until then.

I would say right now it’s about 50/50 as to whether Ted Lilly will still be a Dodger by next week. I think the Dodgers will probably keep him, but then again, they are very adamant about him finishing his rehab games. Either way, the Dodgers will have to make a decision on Lilly soon. Perhaps the sooner the better for both parties. If the Dodgers are wise though, they’ll hang onto the stubborn old lefty. The Dodgers will find out it’s a long season, and more of the unpredictable may happen.

Ted Lilly may be an old disgruntled loud mouth, but the Dodgers will find out that the old guy can still pitch. And the day may come when they may need him. That day may come sooner than you think.