Sergio Romo stepped onto the Dodger Stadium mound for the first time on April 5, 2017. His debut for the team was non-indicative of what was to come. 30 appearances, 25.1 innings and a whole lot of runs later, Romo was designated for assignment, his tenure with the Dodgers not even spanning a quarter of the full campaign.
Romo’s release was frustrating. In a way, it was a silent admittance of defeat for a front office that opted to sign a 34-year-old reliever. It was also a rather torturous continuation of an odd trend: Romo was signed after years of dominating the Dodgers. He beat the team with his pitches and, after signing a one-year deal with the team, he continued his contributions to the Dodgers’ game time demise.
For Romo, each appearance was met with ultra criticism. He came under scrutiny for every pitch and often times, the punishment was far greater than the reward. He was released for it.
In the 2019 offseason, the Dodgers made a signing that, after Romo’s two years earlier, felt rather intrinsic. Joe Kelly beat LA in the World Series and for it, he was signed by the team he so brutally dominated.
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Romo was signed to a one-year deal, Kelly a rather lucrative three-year pact. Romo struggled with the Dodgers, Kelly has made that look like a breeze.
Just a few weeks into the 2019 season Kelly has surrendered more runs than he has innings pitched. His 10.13 ERA and accompanying 1.950 WHIP through 13 appearances should make any viewer, critic or not, cringe.
However, there is a difference between disappointed and harshly criticizing.
Romo was dropped quickly because the signs never pointed to things getting better. Be that as it may, he was also readily let go because he was hardly owed any money. A one-year release hurts the Dodgers a lot less than a three-year release. $6 million far outways $25 million.
For the contracts, drawing parallels between the former Dodger and the newest addition becomes incredibly difficult. Romo never got his act together and, rather justifiably, the Dodgers never felt like there was enough time to turn things around. They also didn’t want to wait and see.
For Kelly time is more or less of the essence. Just a few weeks into a new deal that lasts through 2022, Kelly does have the time that Romo did not.
But, anecdotally the contract comparison should not stand in the way of the point: Both Romo and Kelly have a lot in common and the results could ultimately be the same.
Romo, in his only 30 appearances as a Dodger brought more or less no value to the bullpen.
A unit that was defined by Joe Blanton the previous year and was to later be defined by the minor league addition, Brandon Morrow, saw no contribution from Romo the same way this year’s Dodger bullpen, as early as it is, hasn’t seen any results from Kelly.
In 2017, Romo pitched to the tune of a 68 ERA+ or 32 percent below the league average pitcher.
In just under half the sample size, Kelly has an ERA+ of just 42, 58 percent below league average. Even with improvements, Kelly does not figure to be too far ahead of Romo when he reaches the 30 game mark this year.
So the question then revolves back to what matters so much in baseball nowadays: money.
As was mentioned earlier, Romo was let go because nobody’s pockets hurt for it. Releasing Kelly would be biting the bullet in the most extreme sense and he would be owed $25 million for the Dodgers’ troubles.
So what’s the point? Why bring up Romo and compare the two?
For Kelly, regardless of the level of disappointment from the fans, he has not been met with the same dismay and disapproval.
His role has still been one of high leverage and the result has been even higher leverage and a new pitcher. Kelly has yet to get the job done.
For the Dodgers, this is the biggest predicament a team can find themselves in. The organization clearly has a performance standard and if players aren’t meeting it they get thrown away. It happened to Alex Guerrero, Carl Crawford, twice to Matt Kemp and once to the co-star of this article, Sergio Romo.
While Kelly hasn’t had enough time to either prove or disprove his skills, the trend is not set in the right direction and scrutiny and hyper-focus on that situation is worth monitoring because it was monitored in the past. The Dodgers are a World Series caliber team and with the Kelly situation, there may need to be a change to maintain that standard.