Depth Today, Gone Tomorrow

Just because a team has pitching depth doesn’t mean that they need to trade it. It might be easier for them to swap an arm for a bat, but it is often not a necessity. Pitching depth can be one of the most valuable assets in the game. The Dodgers learned that first hand this week. Yesterday reports circulated that Vicente Padilla was heading back to LA in order to undergo an MRI on his right elbow. While Padilla will not require Tommy John surgery, he will miss an undisclosed amount of time as he recovers from surgery to “free up [a] nerve that is entrapped in his forearm.” Now imagine how good the Dodgers feel about not having dealt any of their six starting pitchers.

The Padilla signing seemed a bit odd at the time. The Dodgers already had five starting pitchers in the fold: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland, and Ted Lilly. It was even rumored at the time of signing that Padilla might act as closer or swingman. That seemed like an odd role for a pitcher who, by ERA and peripherals, appeared to have rebounded significantly in 2010. Whatever Padilla’s motives, it was a solid move by the Dodgers. It brought them one thing that other teams envy: pitching depth.

Despite the presence of six starting pitchers for five spots, the Dodgers weren’t frequent off-season trade-talk subjects. That’s because they can’t trade four of those six players until June. Kuroda, Garland, Lilly, and Padilla all signed contracts this winter, and so would need to grant permission if the Dodgers wished to trade them. That left just two options, Billingsley and Kershaw, if other teams wanted to pluck from the team’s depth. Considering Kershaw is one of the game’s best young lefties, and Billingsley remains a solid, cost-controlled, young righty, the chances of that were slim.

This signals that Ned Colletti had depth as his foremost motive this winter. There was little to no chance that he’d trade either Billingsley or Kershaw, meaning he had planned to go into camp with these six starting pitchers vying for those five spots. Meanwhile, some 20 other teams were scrambling to fill their rotations. Many, if not most, of them likely called Colletti. But with only two real options, and those two likely requiring a significant overpay, the talks probably didn’t go far. The Dodgers, by all appearances, coveted their depth. That has paid off handsomely.

Imagine if the Dodgers had traded Billingsley in order to upgrade the offense this winter. That would have seriously hampered the team for an indefinite period, since it is unknown how long Padilla will need to recover from his surgery. That would likely mean a revolving door of fifth starters similar to ones the Dodgers trotted out last year, including John Ely, Jon Link, and others. In other words, they would have traded away their depth and then paid for it. Instead, they kept their depth and are reaping the benefits.

Throughout the course of the season it’s almost certain that each team will lose time from at least one starter. The Dodgers are one of the few that did something about it. They cruised through the winter with six starting pitchers for five spots, and by all indications didn’t give much thought to dealing from that position of strength. Today they’re all the better for it. Ned Colletti certainly has his shortcomings, but on this one he’s a real winner.

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Good timing, what with the Cardinals slide to ‘also-ran’ status in the Central.