Here we are again asking the same question, should the Dodgers go after an ace-caliber right-handed starter this offseason to complement Clayton Kershaw? Ever since Zack Greinke’s departure, the Dodgers front office has made this a top priority on their shopping list and have been fairly conservative. But do they need to go all in on a starter after what happened in the postseason?
Over the course of the last two years, we’ve seen the Dodgers front office start off with a smaller net than the previous administration. They started the 2016 season with Clayton Kershaw as the only frontline starting pitcher in their rotation until they acquired Rich Hill at the deadline.
That was not enough, as the Dodgers fell in the NLCS to the Chicago Cubs due to a lack of depth in pitching. In 2017, the Dodgers kept Rich Hill to support Clayton Kershaw, but when it looked like the Dodgers were going to go deep into the postseason, the front office answered the demands of the fans and got a front-end right-handed starter, Yu Darvish.
The Dodgers had Kershaw, Hill, and Darvish to go into the post-season, not to mention Alex Wood. They were as set as ever to win the World Series with their rotation and bullpen. It looked even more realistic when they cruised through the Diamondbacks and Cubs. However, it wasn’t the case in the World Series.
Kershaw dominated in Game 1 but couldn’t make it out of the fifth in Game 5. Rich Hill also couldn’t go at least five innings, although it wasn’t because he was pitching poorly. Alex Wood pitched great in his two outings (one relief appearance). But Yu Darvish was a complete disaster.
Darvish was acquired for top prospect Willie Calhoun at the deadline. He was brilliant in his first few starts for LA but then slumped when the Dodgers struggled in September. He found his form in his last couple starts and was virtually unhittable in the NLDS and NLCS. That disappeared quickly in the World Series, never reaching the third inning.
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So when the Dodgers didn’t have a blue chip starter they didn’t reach the World Series. When they finally got one, they lost the World Series. What do they have to do to ultimately win it? Get a better starter?
Well, the market is a little friendlier to strong right-handed pitching than last year. The two top arms are Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish. Darvish is up there, but it looks unlikely that he’ll re-sign with the Dodgers.
Arrieta is intriguing given his elite 2015 season, in which he pitched a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium. He’s declined slightly in the last two seasons, but it’s hard to consistently put out a sub-2 ERA unless you’re Clayton Kershaw. He’s proven durability despite pitching into his 30s with at least 30 starts a year since 2015. However, his innings have dropped, and he missed a few starts with a hamstring injury (which is concerning at his age). Another concern is if he’ll replicate his production if he’s with a team, not the Cubs. The switch from Camden Yards to Wrigley Field flipped his career around, so what if another switch flips it around again?
Darvish came off perhaps his worst regular season yet but pitched masterfully in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Poor mechanics and arm issues have plagued the Japanese star pitcher’s MLB career, which the Dodgers do not need more of. However, his performance early on in October is hard bait not to bite at.
Both pitchers are big risk, significant reward types of deals, but perhaps the Dodgers should look to bolster their bullpen rather than their starting pitching the way Dave Roberts manages. As it stands today, the Dodgers have enough pitchers to put together a rotation that will eat innings and remain competitive (Kershaw, Hill, Wood, Maeda, Ryu, McCarthy). If the Dodgers go out and shop for a starter, a Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb, Tyler Chatwood, or Jhoulys Chacin would better suit them.
As mentioned earlier, Rich Hill was pitching well when he was pulled before facing the Astros’ lineup for the third time. This is something Dave Roberts has done throughout the season. There is statistical evidence that opponent batting averages jump when they face the starting pitcher the third time, including Clayton Kershaw. That being said, maybe the blockbuster moves will come in the form of relievers.
The Dodgers bringing back Brandon Morrow seems to be the most logical first choice. Remember though, that he was signed to a minor league deal and brought on just to see what would happen. It was incredibly low risk. Signing an injury-plagued, 34-year old pitcher who relies on velocity to a three to four-year multi-million dollar contract is very high risk.
Let’s also not forget that the Dodgers went the entire postseason without Pedro Baez, who suffered a meltdown in August but what instrumental in the months before. They also can use Kenta Maeda as a starter or an elite right-handed reliever.
Free agent options include Wade Davis, Mike Minor, Steve Cishek, and Tommy Hunter. If the Dodgers decide to spend this Winter, which they should, it would probably complement their game plan to go after two or three dependable and durable relievers.