3 Joe Kelly replacements Dodgers should already be targeting
By Adam Weinrib
If Blake Treinen becomes the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ closer in the wake of Kenley Jansen’s imminent departure, then that meaty middle of the bullpen is getting awfully thin.
While no one can ever replace the energy that “Mariachi Joe” Kelly brought to the Dodgers from 2019-2021, someone’s going to have to soak up those important innings at a lesser cost after Los Angeles declined to pick up his option for 2022.
This won’t be a one-for-one replacement on a human level. Kelly’s got intangibles leaking out the edges of his upturned lips. In the ‘pen, though, the Dodgers are going to need a sure thing — because, as erratic as it felt like Kelly was, you can’t count on any Tom(my Kahnle), Dick, or Harry to post an under-1.00 WHIP during a championship chase.
Kelly was quite good in 2021, and his October struggles can likely be attributed to injury (aka the reason he won’t be back at a high cost next year). To fill his spot, LA can’t bank on a wild card like Kahnle, Jimmy Nelson, or even Corey Knebel (though it’d be nice to simply bring him back next year, too).
Considering it was reportedly an ownership decision to extend Kenley Jansen last time around, you can bet that without a similar overreach, the closer will be walking this time at a more advanced age. That leaves a much creakier bridge to Treinen, one of many areas in which the Dodgers’ depth will be tested this year.
The rotation currently has Walker Buehler and Julio Urías and … that’s it. Tony Gonsolin? Andrew Heaney? No thank you. Not finished yet. The infield will probably be missing Corey Seager; Gavin Lux will no longer be just a helpful depth piece. That, in turn, makes the bench worse — and don’t forget, no “Chris Taylor: Supersub” either.
We’re going to have to patch this up piece by piece. Let’s start by adding some trusted relievers on one- or two-year deals who can slot in alongside Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, and hopefully Knebel.
These 3 relievers can fill Joe Kelly’s role with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
3. Daniel Hudson
Relief work is a fickle beast, but don’t let a bad post-deadline tenure in San Diego color your opinion of Daniel Hudson, the former Dodger who’s back on the open market.
There’s no way of knowing what exactly was rotten in the Padres clubhouse down the stretch last year, but everything that touched it turned to belch during their spectacular second-half collapse. Hudson’s numbers? More of the same.
He kept his strikeout rate up (27 in 19 innings pitched) but everything else plummeted (5.21 ERA, 4.49 FIP). Sure. Fine. Kind of a bummer. His first four months in Washington were certainly special enough to earn him a one-year, ~$6 million deal at the age of 35; 48 whiffs in 32.2 innings pitched, plus a 2.20 ERA, helped lead the way to 75 Ks in 51.1 innings pitched in total.
Hudson’s been a bit volatile the past few years — but what reliever hasn’t been? His 6.10 ERA in 2020, coming off a World Series run, looks like an eyesore, but 2021 proved in many ways that judging any player by the shortened season alone (let alone a reliever!) is a fool’s errand. 60 bad games is going to impugn Hudson? Please.
The righty’s stint in Dodger Blue in 2018 helped rehab his career and led to him being the one to close out the World Series in Houston the following year. If the Dodgers are looking for multi-inning possibilities and still-high strikeout numbers, they should ink a one-year pact with Hudson.