Dodgers Make a Low Risk Investment in Rotation Depth

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Dodgers rotation from a fantasy perspective for RotoGraphs. At that time, the Dodgers had a pool of starters than went 10 deep. Now they have 11 potential starters. Most teams would be satisfied with 10 starters. They might look to add some minor league depth, like a Rodrigo Lopez type, but they probably wouldn’t give out any more major league contracts.

However, the Dodgers have reason to worry about their depth. Chad Billingsley is currently rehabbing from injury. Prospects Zach Lee and Ross Stripling might not be ready in 2014, or the Dodgers may prefer not to rush either pitcher. Stephen Fife is a decent swing man, but the Dodgers would probably prefer to avoid turning to Matt Magill. Josh Beckett and Dan Haren are penciled into the rotation, although both pitchers were less than stable in recent seasons. Beckett in particular is coming off a nerve impingement surgery that limited him to eight starts last season.

So what have the Dodgers done to combat the flakiness of their rotation depth? Why they’ve hired yet another pitcher who fits into the back of the rotation and comes with health concerns.

On Saturday, the Dodgers signed 32-year-old lefty Paul Maholm to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The deal reportedly includes another $5.5 million in incentives – ostensibly based on innings pitched and/or total starts. The details have yet to be fully disclosed. Maholm dealt with a wrist injury and a sore pitching elbow last season, which is probably why he had to sign an incentive-based contract.

When healthy, Maholm is a solid pitcher who could give the Dodgers an alternative to Beckett at the back of the rotation. Maholm is a soft-tossing lefty who gets the job done by generating ground balls about half the time and limiting walks. His FIP usually weighs in around 4.00, which is better than a typical fifth starter.

Beckett still projects to be the better pitcher in 2014 by a thin margin. Of course, Steamer and Oliver don’t “know” about the nerve impingement surgery. Until the Dodgers get a closer look at him this spring, they simply don’t know if they can count on Beckett to be a major league pitcher. With that in mind, it makes sense for the Dodgers to bring in Maholm. At worst, they’re out $1.5 million plus a tax payment and at best they get a full season of production at slightly below market rate.

Under the new ownership group, it appears that starting pitching depth is a highly valued asset. After the 2012 season, the club was looking at a rotation that included Clayton Kershaw, Beckett, Billingsley, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Ted Lilly. They also had lesser options like Fife available. Rather than stand pat or trade their depth, the club proceeded to hire Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to improve the overall quality of the rotation. That left the team with five veterans competing for two spots.

They hung onto their options as long as possible. Harang was eventually traded for catcher Ramon Hernandez and salary relief, Billingsley required Tommy John surgery after all, Lilly was a bust in his return from injury, and Beckett also spent most of the season on the disabled. Despite an apparent wealth of depth last February, the Dodgers found it necessary to trade for Ricky Nolasco and pick up Edinson Volquez mid-season in order to reach the playoffs.

That 2013 squad shared many of the same concerns as the current group. There was plenty of veteran depth, but they had half a dozen health issues between them. As we saw in 2012, those health concerns can pile up suddenly, especially when previously healthy pitchers join the walking wounded. All starting pitchers come with a risk of hitting the disabled list during a given season – usually around 30 percent – and many injuries require more than 15 days to heal. As such, there’s a plausible scenario where the Dodgers stockpile of arms makes the difference in the NL West division race.

Multiple layers of redundancy will probably open doors for the Dodgers. In event that they don’t need the depth early in the season, they could make a trade to cover an injury at another position or improve the roster. Recently, there have been concerns that Alexander Guerrero might not be ready to contribute at the start of the season, so the team brought in Justin Turner and Chone Figgins as insurance. It might be possible to parlay Beckett into somebody a little more desirable. Maybe a Daniel Murphy becomes available if the Dodgers are comfortable enough to float Lee in trade talks. And with Matt Kemp likely to start the season on the disabled list, a reliable fourth outfielder might be desirable too. That’s all speculation, but for a franchise that isn’t worried about cash, additional player assets can only be a good thing.

The new leadership in Dodgerland has shown an admirable commitment to a fan base that was tortured under the previous ownership. They’ve produced a product that combines a high payroll, elite talent, and excellent roster redundancy in order to survive the unexpected. When you look around the league, only one other team really combines all three of those features – the Red Sox. It’s become fashionable to point out that the link between spending and winning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. After all, only three of the top 10 payrolls reached the postseason last year (and we know that one data point is an excellent basis for analysis). I think it’s safe to say that a team with deep pockets has a big advantage, especially when they fastidiously address even the minor holes on the roster.

We hoped you liked reading Dodgers Make a Low Risk Investment in Rotation Depth by Brad Johnson!

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Great article Brad, I think this could be a great bargain and I can’t see why clubs like the Angels weren’t all over this. Funny how people keep talking about Boston’s need to trade a starting pitcher and all I can think of was last year’s Dodger team. You said better in this article what I have been thinking since the signing.