On the day the Dodgers received news that Zack Greinke was opting out of his contract, they received some good news for their bullpen.
J.P. Howell decided to exercise his player option, bringing him back for $6.25 million in 2016. This was reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney.
It’s always tough to gauge reliever value, as reliever ERA is often unreliable. Nevertheless, Howell put up a 1.43 ERA in 65 games (44 innings) last year. His contract initially made 2016 a mutual option, but that turned into a player option because Howell appeared in 65 games and/or 120 over the last two seasons. It’s somewhat surprising that he decided to exercise the option, as he could probably get similar money on a multi year deal on the open market in a somewhat weak free agent class for relief pitching.
Aug 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) in the ninth inning of the game against the the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Howell gives the Dodgers a legitimately fantastic lefty out of the bullpen. Last year, lefties slashed .224/.295/.224 against Howell (righties were .318/.368/.455), with both sides of the plate tallying 95 plate appearances against Howell. He’s probably best used as a LOOGY, but if you ignore the final two months of last season, Howell might be the most consistent Dodger non-Kenley reliever over the last few years. With the Dodgers’ recent bullpen issues, it’s a relief to know that he will be back for another year at least.
Howell probably returns as the Dodgers’ go-to lefty out of the pen. With his return, Joel Peralta is the only Dodger reliever still up in the air, as he has a $2.5 million team option for next year. Howell, Chris Hatcher, Luis Avilan and Yimi Garcia should be able to make the bullpen not completely horrible next year.
It wouldn’t be shocking if none of those were picked up. Peralta would probably be worth that small financial commitment. When he was healthy last year he was surprisingly effective, but he’ll be 40 in March and losing him would probably not be a huge loss.
According to TrueBlue LA, the Dodgers now have slightly north of $135 million committed to players next year. That’ll surely increase with free agency and arbitration, but there will be plenty of room to retain players (Greinke) or go out and sign new players (Ben Zobrist/Jason Heyward/David Price please). Unlike last season, next season will likely see very little money being paid to other teams, as they’re only paying $3.5 million to another team as of right now (to San Diego for Matt Kemp).