Dodgers add upside to starting rotation with Jimmy Nelson

Early Tuesday morning, the Dodgers front office signed veteran right-hander Jimmy Nelson to an incentive-laden deal that should only provide value for LA.

The Dodgers biggest signing of the decade (thus far) was reported on Twitter by Jorge Castillo of the LA Times.

According to Castillo, the deal is only for $1 million guaranteed for 2020, making this a low-risk move for the Dodgers. With incentives, it could reach $3 million this season, and if both sides agree, a mutual option could kick in for 2021 that could be worth $10 million thanks to incentives.

A six-foot-six right-hander, Nelson intrigued me and fellow Dodgers Way expert Michael Wittman almost immediately after he was non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this offseason. Though I envisioned Nelson as a low-risk innings eater, Wittman and Castillo both see Nelson’s role in the bullpen as being easier to reach, especially for 2020.

Here’s how I broke down Nelson’s recent career a few months back.

The burly right-hander went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA in 2017 before going down on the injured list with a shoulder injury for all of 2018 and most of the 2019 season. Nelson did not have a strong 2019 campaign in 22 innings, but the upside he possesses makes him a big-time value play for the Dodgers, as from 2015 to 2017, Nelson never threw less than 170 innings in a season.

His track record suggests that he has the potential to eat innings for a Dodgers rotation that could struggle to find consistency from its starting pitchers without Hyun-Jin Ryu. Castillo reports that Nelson will be given the chance to earn a starting rotation slot during Spring Training, as he should be, considering that his ceiling is likely higher than that of Ross Stripling and Kenta Maeda.

Even though I had not considered Nelson, 31 years old, as a reliever, thinking of him alongside Stripling and Maeda in the postseason ‘pen is interesting, especially because the trio of young starters, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, and Julio Urias, all will still pitch the majority of their postseason innings out of the bullpen this year as well.

Ultimately, the Nelson signing reminds me a lot of when the Dodgers added Brandon Morrow back before the 2017 season. Like Nelson, Morrow was a former starting pitcher before injuries began to take their toll.

After three seasons of 120-180 innings for Morrow across his age 25-27 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, Morrow barely reached 100 innings combined over his next three seasons as a starter. At age 31, Morrow successfully transitioned to the bullpen, recording a sub-2 ERA with the San Diego Padres in 2016 before joining the Dodgers the following season.

The similarities between the two righties continue beyond potential career arcs as well. Both are burly and bearded, with Morrow (six-foot-three) standing just three inches shorter than Nelson.

Next: Remembering Kenta Maeda's free agent signing

Hopefully, Nelson can make good on his potential and his similarities with Morrow and provide plenty of value to the Dodgers pitching staff in his first season with the Boys in Blue.