Dodgers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report for spring training on Feb. 15. As we count down to the opening of camp, we’re analyzing the various position groups on the roster. Today, a look at the bullpen. Previously: outfielders, infielders, catchers, starting rotation.
When the franchise’s all-time saves leader, Kenley Jansen, left for Atlanta as a free agent, the Dodgers proclaimed no need for a designated closer – then made a late-spring trade for Craig Kimbrel, the only active reliever with more saves than Jansen. Kimbrel’s inconsistency made him unreliable (but didn’t stop the Dodgers from winning 111 games) and he eventually pitched his way out of the role in September and then was left off the postseason roster for the National League Division Series against the San Diego Padres. But the bullpen around Kimbrel thrived with Evan Phillips, in particular, emerging as a shutdown reliever. Released by the Baltimore Orioles and waived by the Tampa Bay Rays just days apart in August 2021, Phillips has blossomed with the Dodgers. He held batters to a .155 batting average and a .430 OPS over 63 innings last year, retiring 29 consecutive batters faced during one stretch in midseason. Phillips was one of six Dodger relievers to record multiple saves as the group compensated for Kimbrel’s unreliability, Blake Treinen’s shoulder injury and a midseason knee injury to veteran Daniel Hudson with an NL-best 2.87 collective ERA. Yency Almonte emerged as a strong option against right-handed batters before a late-season elbow injury and Chris Martin was outstanding after being acquired in a trade with the Cubs.
HOW IT LOOKS RIGHT NOW
Kimbrel is gone and the Dodgers are again proclaiming that they don’t need a designated closer. Phillips and Hudson (expected to return from knee surgery, if not at the start of the season then soon after) are the leading candidates to fill that role most often. Hard-throwing Brusdar Graterol remains a work in progress with a much lower strikeout rate than his velocity should produce (7.2 per nine innings). Alex Vesia and Almonte return as an excellent left-right combo with Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez among those jockeying for depth positions. Veteran right-hander Shelby Miller was signed to a one-year contract with the Dodgers planning to work their pitching magic on the former starter and make him over into an effective reliever.
THE NEXT LAYER
Twenty-six pitchers made relief appearances for the Dodgers last season – and position player Hanser Alberto too. They have collected plenty of options to fill out this year’s number. Major-league veterans Matt Andriese, Wander Suero and former Dodger Adam Kolarek were signed to minor-league deals. In a best-case scenario, Treinen and JP Feyereisen (acquired in a trade with the Rays) could return from their shoulder surgeries late in the season. The Dodgers have held out the possibility of Walker Buehler returning from his second Tommy John surgery before the end of the 2023 season. If he does, it could be in a limited bullpen role.
MOVES THEY COULD MAKE
The odds of Andrew Friedman adding to the bullpen at the trade deadline are always good. Young starters Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone could wind up contributing in bullpen roles as the season plays out. But the biggest move the Dodgers could make is the most obvious one – just name a closer already (most likely Phillips or Hudson) and spare Manager Dave Roberts the nightly walk through a minefield of choosing one.
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