The Dodgers have a lot of allure for free agents these days. They have owners willing to spend, but not overly meddlesome on the baseball side. They play in a mediocre division and they’re coming off a trip to the NLCS, so veteran players see them as a place they could win a ring.
But the best thing they have going for them, at least judging by their last two signings, is simple geography. Starting pitcher Dan Haren took a one-year, $10 million deal to pitch for the Dodgers largely because he’s raising his family in Southern California. And Brian Wilson turned down better opportunities to be a closer in part because he has a home in the Los Angeles area and seems to enjoy the Southern California lifestyle.
Wilson and the Dodgers are polishing off a $10 million one-year contract that will make Wilson, at least initially, the setup man for Kenley Jansen, who was quietly one of the game’s most dominant closers last season.
There were reports that Wilson was zeroing in on a deal with the Detroit Tigers last week when he abruptly informed them he didn’t want to pitch in Detroit, so the Tigers turned around and signed Joe Nathan to a two-year deal. The Dodgers were waiting and agreed to pay Wilson like a closer without guaranteeing him the job.
Wilson’s presence could put added pressure on Jansen, but the combination worked nearly to perfection for about a month last season. Wilson didn’t take over high-leverage eighth-inning duties until Sept. 19, after which he pitched 10 1/3 scoreless innings, including the playoffs. Jansen saved all five of his opportunities that Wilson set up.
The Dodgers aren’t done rebuilding their bullpen. They’ve stabilized the back end, but general manager Ned Colletti said Wednesday that he’s still looking to add high-leverage relievers. Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney are among the right-handers still available as free agents and J.P. Howell, Scott Downs and Mike Gonzalez are some of the lefties still on the market. Howell pitched well for the Dodgers last season, but reportedly is seeking a three-year deal and the Dodgers seem intent on signing short-term contracts this winter to allow their draft-and-develop strategy to take hold.
There are bargain solutions, too. The St. Louis Cardinals did not tender a contract to former closer John Axford, making him a free agent. At the same time, the Dodgers declined to offer Ronald Belisario a 2014 contract, creating another void in the latter innings.