All it takes is one quick look at the list of available free agent starting pitchers this off-season to realize that the list is rather short – especially for top-tier starting pitchers. Once you get past former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and perhaps Kyle Lohse, most available free agent starters are number 3 or number 4 guys at best – including Anabel Sanchez and Ryan Dempster.
While the shortage of top-of-the-rotation starters bodes well for Greinke and Lohse and all but guarantees them huge and potentially lengthy contracts this off-season, it will force teams looking to add a top-tier starter or two (say… like… the Dodgers) to be creative and to think outside the box in order to land a quality number 2 starter.
No one can dispute that because of new ownership, the Dodgers now have the financial wherewithal to flex their spending muscle when it comes to absorbing large existing contracts of non-free agents. And while this definitely gives the Dodgers a distinct advantage over smaller market teams or teams that are already at their spending limits, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee them that teams are going to be willing to part with their top-of-the-rotation starters; in fact, it is highly unlikely – unless the price is right, that is. And by that, I’m not just talking about money.
Face it, thanks to the greed and ignorance of Frank McCourt, the Dodgers do not have much in the way of MLB-ready prospects to use as bargaining chips to lure away any non-free agent top-tier pitchers. Oh sure they have Zach Lee and Chris Reed, their two top draft picks from 2010 and 2011 respectively, and their top outfield prospect and 2012 minor league Player of the Year Joc Pederson, but after that, the pickins are pretty slim. And to be quite honest, the Dodgers would (in my opinion) be better off hanging on to Lee and Reed with hopes that they themselves will eventually become top-of-the-rotation starters for the Dodgers; this is an example of that creativity thing I’m talking about.
Aside from Zach Lee, Chris Reed and Joc Pederson, the Dodgers would most likely have to look at their existing 40-man roster and perhaps even their 25-man roster in order to offer up players that other teams would be interested in trading their top starters for – guys like Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, or any combination thereof (in addition to Lee, Reed and Pederson); and I really do not see the Dodgers doing this.
So it basically all comes back to money, but here again, what team is going to be willing to let their top guy go regardless of the money? I can possibly see the Rays letting James Shields go as a salary dump, but why would a team that is also seeking starting pitching let one of their top starters go?
Another alternative for the Dodgers would be to trade one of their back of the bullpen guys for a top-tier starter. There isn’t a team out there that wouldn’t love to have Ronald Belisario or Kenley Jansen in their bullpen. But the Dodgers bullpen has been its strength (and pretty much its only strength) for the past two season, so why would they want to mess with that? Granted, there are several High Single-A and Double-A relievers down on the Dodgers farm who could be brought up to fill the void should such a trade take place, but that brings the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to mind.
The bottom line here is that Mark Walter, Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti are going to have to get creative in order to get Clayton Kershaw a little help in the rotation, and it appears that this creativity is going to boil down to mostly money. Is Mark Walter willing to spend what will undoubtedly be a lot of money?
“If it’s there and if it’s right for us,” said Walter. “If it’s not worth it, it doesn’t matter if you have more money,” he added.