Friday, December 20, 2013

Zach Lee should be the Dodgers' No. 5 starter in 2014 if no Tanaka, Price

It's Dec. 20, and the Dodgers still haven't acquired a big-name starting pitcher. It isn't necessarily a huge need, but it'd be nice to have one more big arm in the rotation.

The Dan Haren signing was really good, but I envision him as the team's No. 5 starter rather than its No. 4. But there's a very real scenario in which he's the No. 4 starter, and that isn't the worst thing in the world.

The market has been quiet. David Price rumors abound, and I'm not as opposed to him as I was earlier this offseason (or as others, including the Dodgers, it seems). Masahiro Tanaka may or may not be posted (somewhat reminiscent of the Alexander Guerrero situation). 

Obviously, Tanaka would be the preference. He's younger than Price and wouldn't cost prospects. Price would cost prospects and a length contract extension. With the Dodgers still needing to lock up Clayton Kershaw (hurry up already!) and Hanley Ramirez (could be soon), a Price extension might be No. 3 on the "To Do" list.

Some have suggested Price would be an insurance policy in case Kershaw -- somehow -- decides to leave via free agency. After all, he's "curious" about the prospect, and who could blame him?

If the Dodgers don't acquire Tanaka or Price, it's unlikely the Dodgers would sign a free agent. Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana both have draft pick compensation tied to them, while the team has shown little-to-no-interest in Matt Garza. Aside from that trio, there isn't really any starter worth signing.

Josh Beckett would be the No. 5 starter if the season were to start today. But let's be honest: No one wants to watch Beckett pitch anymore.

He's probably done, but he's also due nearly $16 million in 2014. There might be the obligation to pitch him -- and the Dodgers probably will -- but they should spare us the inevitable mound meltdown by Beckett. He had one good start in 2013 and was surprisingly solid for the Dodgers in 2012. But, as Daniel Brim laid out today on his blog (seriously, check it out), the history of those who attempt to come back from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery don't tend to have much success.

My alternative: Zach Lee.

Lee, 22, is pretty much MLB-ready and, if he isn't traded, he should be given serious consideration for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. He enjoyed his best season to date in the Southern League, posting a 3.22 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 2.2 BB/9 and a 8.3 K/9. All of those numbers were career-bests for the Dodgers' 2010 first-round pick. He's getting better every year he pitches.

If he begins the season in the minors, the Dodgers could conceivably send him to Albuquerque, as they did with Matt Magill last season. Almost everyone knows the Pacific Coast League is none too friendly to pitchers, and the Dodgers tend to avoid sending their top starter prospects there. However, if Lee went back to Chattanooga, it'd be his third stint with the Lookouts. He doesn't have much more to prove.

His stuff ticked up slightly in 2013, and he definitely has a future as a starting pitcher. He won't be a No. 1 or No. 2, but I see him as a low-end No. 3 or high-end No. 4 at worse. Plus, it'd be nice to see the Dodgers give a youngster a shot. They haven't really done so since Kershaw and Chad Billingsley (through no fault of their own).

If I'm Lee, I'd attach myself to Zack Greinke's hip in spring training and absorb everything the cerebral starter has to offer.

The Dodgers appear committed to keeping the farm system in tact. If they want to see what Lee's true worth is, this might be the time to find out. If the truly want to model their farm system and development after the Cardinals, this would be a fine time to start.

As for what to do with Beckett: I'm not sure. Make him the long reliever? Eat almost all his contract to trade him? Designate him for assignment? All of them seem like viable options. Honestly, I don't particularly care. I want the best 25 guys out there, and Lee profiles to be better than Beckett is right now. Beckett won't make-or-break the Dodgers' season.

I really hope the Dodgers land Tanaka. I'd be OK with them landing Price. If they must include Corey Seager to land Price, then I'd like to see them sign Aledmys Diaz to replace him (that's pretty much the only scenario in which that is acceptable, but it still isn't preferred). If those two options fall through, Lee is my guy. And I've been higher on Lee than most in the last couple of years (even if he won't be my No. 1 prospect for 2014).

One way or another, I'd rather not see Beckett throw another pitch as a starter for the Dodgers again. It's nothing personal, it's just the fact that Lee is the better option.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue


  1. Stephen Fife? Ever hear of him?

    1. Yep. He was decent last year, but not a long-term solution by any means. He's roster fodder.

  2. Entertaining article, and thanks for the Thoracic Outlet link.

    Why do you think Lee's MLB-ready? His ERA was 9th in the (AA) league. He had 10 more IP than Hits...not overwhelming. He doesn't have an "out" pitch. Just because it would be dangerous to pitch him in Albuquerque doesn't mean he's ready for the move to MLB!

    1. One doesn't have to pitch in Triple-A to be MLB-ready (see Clayton Kershaw... and I'm not comparing the two). Lee has pitched a year and a half in the level of the minors that usually determines a prospect's future. I'm confident he could throw 140 quality innings in the majors in 2014.

  3. One could interpret the outcome of Outlet surgery differently. 37% had improvement for a reasonable while after the surgery. That's 37% of a crew that mostly wasn't outstanding before the operation, excepting Carpenter (who was at the end) and Rogers (who improved). A 37% chance of Beckett being markedly better than he's been? I'll take that.

    By the way, you should credit the guy for saying "Lee as the 4th-5th starter" before you did.

    1. If your ever read my blog, I've written extensively about Lee. Just click the tag at the bottom of the post and see.

    2. Hey, I wrote the TOS article. Rogers wasn't better after surgery, but was still a useful major leaguer for a few more years. Cook and Harrison were indeed better after surgery, but they were at a different stage of the aging curve than Beckett is now. Still, compared to other pitcher surgeries (IE Tommy John), the recovery rate is low.

      Regarding crediting me for thinking Lee is good, that's nonsense. His ceiling is common knowledge, and it doesn't take much to look at scouting reports and such. I think Dustin knows more about Lee than I do.

      Anyways, thanks for reading! It's much appreciated.