Saturday, October 30, 2010

2010 Los Angeles Dodger off-season preview, part IV

When I was writing part three -- potential free agent targets -- I saw it was getting a bit long after just the position players. So this part of the off-season preview is about potential free agent targets on the pitching market.

The biggest prize, despite his putrid Game 1 performance against the Giants, is Cliff Lee. He has the best control in baseball (10.28 K:BB ratio) and shows up in the playoffs. In theory, the Dodgers should be all over this guy, especially after failed attempts to trade for him in the past. However, these are the Frank McCourt Los Angeles Dodgers, where money is apparently a factor in the second-largest media market in the country. But I digress.

Right now, the Dodgers have three quality starting pitchers under contract: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. If the season started today, guys like John Ely and Carlos Monasterios would fill out the Dodger rotation. Truthfully, the Dodgers can only have one of those guys in the rotation at worst.

So the Dodgers are definitely in the market for a starter or two. Here's a look at who's available and who might be worth a signing.

Starting Pitchers
Hiroki Kuroda, LA
11-13, 3.39 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 7.3 K/9
- Kuroda had his best season as a Major Leaguer in 2010. He battled injuries but was still able to log a career-high 196.1 innings while posting the lowest ERA of his career. When the Dodgers re-signed Lilly, it effectively took them out of the Kuroda sweepstakes -- unfortunately. Kuroda will be 36 years old by the time the season starts and odds are he'll return to Japan.

Vicente Padilla, LA
6-5, 4.07 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
- I wasn't exactly a fan when the Dodgers first brought Padilla over in late 2009, but before a few poor starts toward the end of his season, Padilla was one of the biggest surprises for the Dodgers. He returned to the Dodgers in 2010 on a 1-year, $5.025 million contract with performance bonuses (none of which he reached). He was only able to log 95 innings, though, which is a concern. If the Dodgers could get him back at a cheap rate with incentives, it'd be worth a look.

Kevin Millwood, BAL
4-16, 5.10 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 6.2 K/9
- Millwood is coming off the worst season of his career after a solid 2009 with Texas. He isn't the pitcher he once was, but he could fit well into the back of the rotation as an innings-eater (has averaged 189 innings a season since 1998). Millwood made $12 million last season and probably will not be offered arbitration by the Orioles. If the Dodgers could nab him at a deal similar to Padilla, it might be worth a chance.

Carl Pavano, MIN
17-12, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 4.8 K/9
- Pavano came out of nowhere in 2010 after four putrid seasons with the Yankees, Indians and half a season with the Twins. He'll be 35 years old before the season and there's no guarantee he'll repeat his 2010 performance. He signed a 1-year, $7 million contract with the Twins last year and I wouldn't be surprised if he signs for more than that this winter. He is a Type-A free agent, which could hurt him if Minnesota offers arbitration.

Jake Westbrook, CLE-STL
10-11, 4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 5.7 K/9
- Westbrook seemed to fit right in with the Cardinals after being traded to St. Louis at the trade deadline. He performed significantly better in the National League than the American League. He is coming off a 3-year, $33 million contract and could net something in the $8- to $10 million/year annually. I wouldn't be surprised if he stays in St. Louis (perhaps at a discount).

Others: Erik Bedard*, SEA; Justin Duchscherer, OAK; Aaron Harang*, CIN; Rich Harden*, TEX; Ben Sheets, OAK; Brandon Webb, ARI
- The common theme with all these guys -- they're all projects. All are coming off injuries or poor performances. A guy like Duchscherer could be a nice risk for the Dodgers.

What to do: At least one starting pitcher must be signed so the Dodgers don't have to go with two unproven arms in the rotation. I suspect another starter will be explored via trade.

The Dodgers always seem to find a way to fill out the bullpen with quality arms (Troncoso, Bellisario, etc.), so signing free agent relievers doesn't seem like the smartest allocation of resources. With Kenley Jansen emerging and Hong-Chih Kuo dominating, the Dodgers have two quality relievers. And if Jonathan Broxton returns to form (which I think he will), the Dodgers will be in great shape in the 'pen.

I'm not including guys like Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano or Brian Fuentes as they are likely to get closing jobs elsewhere (Rivera will stay in New York or retire).

Relief Pitchers

Scott Downs, TOR
5-5, 2.64 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 7.0 K/9

- Downs has been one of Toronto's best relievers since 2007. He's a quality left-handed arm out of the 'pen who can get lefties and righties out. The one thing that will hurt his stock is he's a Type-A free agent and Toronto is quite likely to offer him arbitration. If Toronto doesn't, for some reason, a lot of teams will be in line for his services.

Pedro Feliciano, NYM
3-6, 3.30 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 8.0 K/9
- Feliciano is nothing if not durable. He has led the Majors in relief appearances each of the last three years (average: 88.7 appearances). And he has a 3.44 ERA and 8.5 K/9 rate in those three years. He's a valuable lefty out of the bullpen and could be a hot commodity on the market. He's a Type-B free agent.

J.J. Putz, CWS
7-5, 2.83 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.8 K/9
- After a poor and injury-riddled 2009, Putz seemed to return to form in 2010. He signed a $3 million contract with the White Sox last winter and is primed to improve on that. He has a mid-90s fastball and a nasty upper-80s splitter. He could be an asset to any bullpen, but he's probably priced out of the Dodgers' range. He is also a Type-B free agent.

Others: Jeremy Affeldt, SF; Grant Balfour, TB; Jason Frasor, TOR; Kevin Gregg, TOR; Chad Qualls, TB
- Affeldt could be worth a look, but the Giants aren't likely to let him go. Qualls has good stuff but was downright awful last season. Gregg had a solid season as the Jays' closer.

What to do: Unless the Dodgers can get one of the better relievers at a great price, just pass and patch the 'pen with young guys or non-roster invitees.

Next up: Potential trade targets

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