After a nearly three-year spending spree, the Dodgers seem to be retrenching this winter. That’s in part because they won 94 games last season and return a roster that is largely intact. But it also seems to be part of a wider organizational philosophy to rebuild the minor-league system and eventually bring the payroll under $200 million. Thus far, the only major headlines they’ve generated since being eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs involve the front office. With the winter meetings looming next week, let’s explore some areas the Dodgers might look to improve:
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, are in serious pursuit of left-handed reliever Andrew Miller along with several other teams that include the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
If you’re a free agent, those are the three teams you want in hot pursuit of you because they are three of baseball's biggest spenders.
It comes as a mild surprise that the Dodgers would be in the fray for Miller, though, since everything we’ve seen so far from the front office of Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and Josh Byrnes suggest a more incremental approach. They’ve admitted they want to create payroll flexibility to avoid becoming a team like, say, the Philadelphia Phillies, an aging group with unmovable contracts.
So, would they stretch to a four-year deal for Miller when some of what got them in trouble last season was a collection of big contracts in the bullpen? The Dodgers weren’t able to adjust in-season either through a trade or by promoting a hot reliever from Triple-A because of the glut of pricey, guaranteed contracts. They had trouble finding solutions for the eighth inning while paying heavily for a trio of former closers: Brian Wilson ($10 million), Brandon League ($7.5 million and Chris Perez ($2.3 million).
Then again, Miller might be different. He might be worth the stretch. Unlike League, who essentially paved his return with one very hot month after the Dodgers traded for him in 2012, Miller has proven dominant the last two seasons. He’s also left-handed and that’s usually helpful.
Since the start of 2013, Miller has a 2.23 ERA, a .989 WHIP and a better-than-four-to-one strikeout to walk ratio. He takes care of the Dodgers’ eighth-inning problem since he’s equally effective pitching to right-handed batters, thanks to his very good slider, which he throws nearly as much as his 94-mph fastball. Last year, lefties hit .163 off Miller, who is 6-foot-7, and righties batted .145. He won’t complain about not closing, since he’s made a career of pitching in middle relief.
Now for the downside: League also was 29 when the Dodgers inked him to that now-infamous three-year, $22.5 million deal two years ago. The problem with paying a lot of money for “proven” relievers is they often did most of the proving before you signed them. Volatility is the norm with bullpens, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Dodgers take their chances next season with the bullpen they have.
They think they’ve fortified the group already by adding veteran, rubber-armed right-hander Joel Peralta and a hard thrower with upside, Juan Nicasio, whose performance showed an uptick when the Colorado Rockies moved him to the bullpen. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly liked some of what he saw when he used hard throwers Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias in relief and Chris Withrow could be back and pitching by July or August. Paco Rodriguez and Yimi Garcia will compete for spots this spring.
There has been surprisingly little movement toward signing free-agent pitchers in general, which suggests that the big-name pitchers might have to sign before teams pursuing them recalibrate and the action really gets going. If the Dodgers pass on Miller and, presumably, David Robertson, there are other potential solutions to last season’s eighth-inning conundrum that might come at a fraction of the cost: Luke Gregerson and Francisco Rodriguez among them.
It feels like the Dodgers might have one more move in them before they feel comfortable with their bullpen heading into spring training.