The Dodgers should Upgrade Bullpen with Neal Cotts


May 12, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Texas Rangers relief pitcher Neal Cotts (56) pitches during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB trade deadline is approaching us quickly, and the Dodgers are right in the thick of many rumors. Every day we all wake up to a new rumor about an outfielder getting traded, “To be, or not to be: David Price edition”, relievers the Dodgers are targeting, and which favorite prospect we might have to watch on another team. All of these rumors have had shiny names such as David Price, Matt Kemp, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, etc. but it might be a smaller move that pays huge dividends for the Dodgers. I believe this smaller move should be to upgrade the bullpen by trading for Texas Rangers’ reliever Neal Cotts. Who? Lets find out.

Neal Cotts is a 34 year old, left-handed reliever currently in his second season with the Texas Rangers. He started his MLB career in 2003 and pitched for the White Sox and then Cubs until 2009. During this time, he had one great season but for the most part pitched mediocre if not terrible. He was out of the majors from 2009 until 2013 when the Rangers, who had signed him to a minor league deal, called him up to the big leagues again and at the age of 33 he found great form. Last year, Cotts pitched 57 innings in which he had a 10.26 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 1.11 ERA and 2.17 FIP. These are fantastic numbers for a reliever, especially one who found success against both lefties and righties. In 2014, he isn’t exactly replicating his 2013 success but is being effective enough to be a positive addition to the Dodgers bullpen.

In 2014, Cotts has pitched 44 innings with a 10.23 K/9 (barely below his 2013 rate), a 3.68 BB/9, 3.27 ERA, and 2.76 FIP. These numbers are a bit worse then his 2013 numbers, especially in ERA, but the peripherals and a high Batting Average of Balls in Play (BABIP) could suggest some bad luck is not getting Cotts the results he could get, and could point to success for the rest of the year.

Neal Cotts would fit a perfect role in the Dodgers bullpen as he would not only give the Dodgers a second middle relief lefty option in the bullpen* but also be another guy that could get batters out from both sides of the plate, which is obviously valuable since the Dodgers wouldn’t be trading assets for a guy to get only 1 out every once in awhile. In fact, the strange part about him is that in 2014 he is having much more success against righties compared to lefties. Righties are hitting .240/.322/.311 against him compared to lefties hitting .266/.343/.429. Those numbers against lefties are a bit discouraging, but I believe the numbers against lefties will improve with a larger sample size because in 2013 lefties hit .198/.259/.306

*(Although Maholm is a lefty as well, he is used more as a long man/spot starter and I’m not really counting him as a guy the Dodgers would use in high leverage situations). 

The major question with all these speculative articles is of course: What is it going to cost? This is a very tricky and unique case. Cotts is not a shiny, big name piece such as Huston Street, Jonathan Papelbon, and guys with “closer experience”. He is also 34 years old, a free agent at the end of the season, signed for 2.2 million this year so he doesn’t have a lot of salary attached, and is playing for a team who is obviously selling. Joakim Soria and Huston Street both went for some interesting packages (some top prospects on teams with weak prospects) but Cotts would come at a cheaper price. He wouldn’t command the prospect(s) package some of the alternative options will and at the same time he has a great chance to be a decent to significant upgrade in the bullpen.

Trading for Neal Cotts would not be a big name trade that some Dodger fans are hoping for, but having him replace someone like Chris Perez in the bullpen could be a huge upgrade to what is arguably the weakest part of the Dodgers team. Adding a left-hander who can get both sides of the bat out in the middle innings would give great options for Don Mattingly to use late in the games, and would presumably not come at a high cost.