The situation surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen has taken a back seat due to so many other issues this offseason. The lack of spending. Trevor Bauer's suspension appeal. Justin Turner's departure. Cody Bellinger's non-tender and then eventual departure. Who cares about a bullpen with all of that stuff taking center stage?
But the bullpen is a serious, serious issue. Blake Treinen is probably out for all of 2023. So is JP Feyereisen (since a late August return gives him barely any time to actually get back on track). How effective will Daniel Hudson be coming off a torn ACL? Are the Dodgers actually entrusting Shelby Miller with important innings? How will Victor González perform after missing all of 2022 with an injury? Will the regressions of Phil Bickford and Justin Bruihl continue?
Forget about this team not having a closer ... they hardly have a respectable unit on paper! Now, in opposition to that statement, pitching coach Mark Prior and the Dodgers staff have always figured out a way to make it work. Round of applause. Love you guys.
But the amount of risks and "what ifs" the Dodgers have coming into 2023 are especially alarming. Taking chances on a few wild cards? Sure. Worth the risk. When they make up half the bullpen? That's a powderkeg.
Nonetheless, in the spirit of "taking risks," perhaps the Dodgers should find a way to make room for reliever Matt Barnes, who was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox this week.
Dodgers should consider signing former Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes
Barnes was an All-Star in 2021 and earned a lucrative two-year contract extension from the Red Sox amid his impressive run of form. Sadly for Boston, that was never the right decision. Barnes has always been who he's been. And his wildly impressive first half to 2021 was never changing that.
But Chaim Bloom took the bait and gave the right-hander a two-year, $18.75 million extension with a club option for the 2024 season. Shortly after that deal was agreed to, Barnes fell off a cliff. During the second half of 2021, he registered a 6.48 ERA and 1.62 WHIP with 21 strikeouts across 16.2 innings and was removed from the closer role.
In 2022, he still wasn't great, but he showed signs of turning it around with a few promising months. Overall, he went 0-4 with a 4.31 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 39.2 innings. His eight saves were a third of what he achieved in 2021. All in all, Barnes pretty much fell right in line with his career marks: 4.07 ERA, 3.60 FIP and 1.34 WHIP. He can strike out a ton of batters when he's on, but he still walks more than a high-leverage reliever should (4.2 BB/9).
It's nothing the Dodgers can't fix, though! Turns out, Barnes' curveball became very hittable ... and that's the pitch he mostly relies upon. He ranked in the 4th percentile for curveball spin in 2022 (and in the 10th percentile the year prior). Opposing batters were hitting .266 against that pitch.
It's unclear what Prior would do to help Barnes turn it around ... but he's managed to do it with much less established talent in the past. Barnes has a legitimate track record of success and pitched for a World Series winner. He doesn't have to be the closer. He doesn't even need to be the eighth inning guy. Just possessing another battle-tested arm looking for a bounce-back campaign would help LA bridge the gap to the ninth.
Dodgers fans are still having nightmares about former Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel ... but Barnes won't be (and shouldn't be) foisted into the spotlight as often (or even as close to as often) as Kimbrel was. Help Barnes rediscover his curveball, utilize him in the right spots to eat innings, and create a bit more certainty among the many unknowns in the relief corps.