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Raymond Montes de Oca gets pictures from Camelback, February 26th, 2015

Raymond Montes de Oca is back in Arizona, and he got some photos and a couple video clips this morning at Camelback Ranch.  Here’s a glance at what’s going on in Dodgers camp today.

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And here are a few video clips….

A Roundtable Discussion on Andre Ethier

Our writers got involved in a debate regarding Andre Ethier and the Dodgers’ outfield situation.  Here’s our latest roundtable, starting with a basic transcript of what was discussed in our writer’s chat.
Ernie Villa started out by asking “if Ethier puts together a .320 spring with 7 HR and 15 RBI, and Joc hits, say, .300 with 4 HR and 20 RBI, who do you start?”
Joc Pederson struggled last September, but a 30-30 season at Albuquerque last year and strong numbers at each minor league stop have many fans optimistic that the 23 year old will be starting in center field for the Dodgers this year.

Joc Pederson struggled last September, but a 30-30 season at Albuquerque last year and strong numbers at each minor league stop have many fans optimistic that the 23 year old will be starting in center field for the Dodgers this year.

Mandy Cardoso said “I would hope that Ethier would put together a solid spring and win the job, or get moved because I don’t like this type of attitude and drama within the clubhouse.  Right now I’d prefer to see him get moved.  I’d like to see Joc Pederson start in center field.”

Eric Becker agreed, stating he’d prefer to see Joc in center.  “Ethier was absolutely terrible last year.  He’ll be 33 years old less than a week after Opening Day.  I think he does have some bounce-back potential, but he’s never going to be what he used to be.  That in itself isn’t a reason to move him.  But I think Joc’s ready, and even if he isn’t, I don’t think Ethier is better than him at this point.”

Eric Vrsalovich chimed in stating “I think we still have some moves up our sleeves.  But I’d give Joc center.

Mandy Cardoso continued, saying “I’d start Joc even his numbers are slashed in 1/2 of what you mentioned above.”

Ernie asked “Really?  I thought we were leerie of just handing Pederson the job.”

Eric Becker asked “What did Ethier do last spring?”

Alejandro Rodriguez then came in with his opinion, stating “I would start Pederson over Ethier even if the numbers are similar.  What if Ethier’s numbers are solid against righties only and Joc’s are solid against both lefties and righties?  To me that’s the bigger difference.  Who’s going to be the better every day player?”

Alejandro continued: “Ethier last spring hit .333 (14-42), 1 HR, 6 RBIs, 3 2B, 3 runs scored.”  Seeing that this stat line resulted in Ethier hitting .249 during the regular season, a strong spring isn’t necessarily an indicator that Ethier can hold up those sorts of stats over a 162 game season.

The consensus among the staff seems to be that it's time for the Dodgers to give Ethier an opportunity to walk away and get a fresh start elsewhere.

The consensus among the staff seems to be that it’s time for the Dodgers to give Ethier an opportunity to walk away and get a fresh start elsewhere.

Mandy Cardoso gave another thought, saying “I think Ethier’s attitude does this team more disservice than whatever offense he’s able to bring.”

Alejandro Rodriguez agreed, saying “everybody wants to say he was a team guy last year for playing nice the last two months when he was benched.  Really, him playing nice proved nothing.”  Rodriguez was more concerned with what Ethier’s attitude is right now.

Emilio Lacques-Zapien said “Obviously some of what Ethier says is going to be over blown by the media.  The fact that it is already one of the headline stories and spring games haven’t even started yet is an issue.  Right now,  it will continue to be an issue. Just as several of us stated this winter, you make moves early to avoid being in messy situations later.

Mandy Cardoso felt that Ethier overstepped his boundaries.  “He has NO room to talk.  As much as I’m glad Kemp’s gone now, at least Kemp proved why he deserved his spot with his play last season.  Ethier did not.”

Alejandro Rodriguez countered on the Kemp issue, saying “yeah but to be fair, Kemp did complain early in the season when he wasn’t getting playing time, especially after he got moved to left field.”

Emilio Lacques-Zapien said “some fans I have seen in Facebook groups are comparing Kemp to Ethier, which, to me, is insane. I don’t believe that Ethier will come close to doing what Kemp did in the second half of 2014.  He’s older and lost most of his pop.  Kemp has always been a beast, finally put it together…but the injury history and the deep outfield at Petco means that he will probably lose it again.  Not to mention, he’s become a poor defensive outfielder.”

Alejandro Rodriguez responded “the funniest one I’ve heard is that Ethier can still produce but that its Mattingly’s fault because he won’t give him a chance.  Ethier had about 350 at bats last year and hit .249.  That seems like enough of a chance to me.”

Emilio concluded the discussion, stating “to me a solid Ethier in 2015 if Pederson isn’t quite ready yet or barring an injury to Crawford is like .282 with 14 home runs, and that’s a big resurgence that I just don’t see happening.”

Two other writers e-mailed in their thoughts on the issue of Ethier.

Wyatt Lim-Tepper said “We all appreciate what Andre Ethier has done for us the past few years.  He’s been our Captain Clutch, gold glove winning, best evil death stare of the past decade post ejection, and those are just a few of his achivements.”

We'll give Andre Ethier this: he does have one of the most intense post-ejection "death stares" in Major League Baseball!

We’ll give Andre Ethier this: he does have one of the most intense post-ejection “death stares” in Major League Baseball!

“However, he’s quickly become the friend who’s been in that bad relationship for too long and you just hope would move on so you don’t have to hear about it anymore.”

“Trade him. He’s dragging with the Dodgers and deserves enormous amounts of respect for taking the lack of playing time as a professional. He should get some regular playing time somewhere, and although it would be tough to see sporting a different uniform, he deserves a starting gig that he will not get in LA.”

Andy Juarez, who will be writing his debut article with us in the coming weeks, had this to say: “I believe that Andre Ethier deserves to be traded somewhere that will give him a realistic chance of playing. He has been nothing but a class act during the entire
overpopulated outfield dilemma.”

” I know it will be difficult with his current contract, but if the Dodgers want to do right by him, they will eat up most of that and trade him. By doing so, he will be able to leave properly and the Dodgers will be seen as a well-run organization.  It would be a win-win situation for the Dodgers and Ethier.”

Well, these are just a few of the opinions of some of the writers here at Dodgers-LowDown. Do you agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let us know what you thoughts are about the current Andre Ethier situation.”

Wednesday Night Dodgers Check-In with Eric Becker

Good Wednesday evening everyone, well here are some of the stories circulating around Dodgers camp and Dodgers-LowDown this week. In 8 minutes I talk bullpen, Ethier, being a Dodger fan in “enemy territory,” talk about how you can join our team at West Coast Bias, and try to make it not too obvious that I’m having a bad hair year in 2015.  The run-down in 8 minutes right here at Dodgers-LowDown and West Coast Bias Sports!

Josh Hamilton To Enter Rehab Program For Substance Abuse

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton has met with Major League Baseball and appears to be headed toward entry into a substance abuse treatment program. While the league has not officially commented, there has been quite a bit of talk that Hamilton has relapsed, and that his relapse is connected with the reason why he is rehabbing in Houston instead of spending spring training with the team.  A suspension is possible, but has not been announced at this time, and given that no positive test was reportedly registered there may not be a suspension coming.

Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:

Per Steven Marcus on Twitter:

Marcus also tweeted:

While we still await official confirmation from Major League Baseball, it is apparent that Josh Hamilton will, at minimum, be taking some time away from the game to work on his substance abuse problem.  Hamilton would be treated as a first-time offender under the Joint Drug Agreement and would not necessarily face a set suspension time, though he will need to complete a treatment program.

Hamilton’s drug issues are well-documented.  Dave Sheinen with the Washingon Post wrote an insightful article in 2008 that talked about Hamilton’s struggles with substance abuse and his road back to the Major Leagues.

Picked first overall in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now Rays) and given a bonus of $3.96 million upon signing, Hamilton first hit setbacks due to his drug issues in 2001, when he had a preseason automobile accident that caused him serious injury and contributed to him beginning to experiment with drugs.  A confession to a sports psychologist led Hamilton to his first stint in rehab, but it would not be his last.

Between the beginning of 2003 and July of 2006, between injuries and numerous failed drug tests that led to a suspension that stretched out for 12 months, Josh Hamilton did not play an inning of baseball before making a 2007 comeback that culminated with a successful season with the Cincinnati Reds before breaking out with the Texas Rangers starting with a 2008 season in which he led the league with 130 RBI’s while hitting .304 with 32 HR, later helping to lead the team to the World Series in 2010 and 2011 while claiming the American League Most Valuable Player Award after a 2010 season that saw him hit .359 with 32 HR and 100 RBI’s.  Hamilton eclipsed those power numbers in 2012, hitting .285 while hitting 42 HR and driving in 128 runs.

Hamilton did have relapses on alcohol in both 2009 and 2012, the second of which was a contributing factor in him not re-signing with the Rangers during the 2012 off-season.

Hamilton has struggled to maintain his form since signing a 5 year, $125 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2013 season.  In two seasons with the club, Hamilton has managed to only hit .255 while hitting 31 HR and putting up 123 RBI’s, power numbers that he previously was creating in single seasons.

Angels slugger Josh Hamilton meeting with Major League officials, could face discipline

Just breaking, per the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Angels slugger Josh Hamilton is meeting with Major League officials and may face disciplinary action.

While it has not yet been reported why the power-hitting Hamilton is meeting with Major League Officials, the outfielder does have a history of substance abuse issues and tests for drug use three times a week.  This unusual step is in place due to Hamilton previously facing suspensions and discipline while in the minor leagues for his past substance abuse issues.

Hamilton has relapsed on alcohol at least twice to public knowledge, once in 2009 and another time in 2012, but faced no discipline from Major League Baseball as alcohol is not covered under its banned substance policy.

The Angels' Josh Hamilton has fought substance abuse issues throughout his career, but the Angels were still optimistic that Hamilton could be a major contributor in 2015.  Hamilton is meeting with MLB officials and may be facing disciplinary action.

The Angels’ Josh Hamilton has fought substance abuse issues throughout his career, but the Angels were still optimistic that Hamilton could be a major contributor in 2015. Hamilton is meeting with MLB officials and may be facing disciplinary action.

The Angels were already anticipating that Hamilton would be out until at least mid-May after having surgery on his right shoulder.  Hamilton has not reported to camp and was given special permission by the team to rehab at a friend’s ranch in Texas, an unusual arrangement.

If the suspension is related to substance abuse or Performance Enhancing Drugs, this may cause Hamilton to miss even more time and will be subject to losing a portionof his 5 year, $125 million contract.

Hamilton hit .263 with 10 HR and 44 RBI in 89 games last year.  The Angels have been hoping that Hamilton can return to being a healthy and productive hitter in 2015 as they attempt to repeat as American League West champions.  If Hamilton does face suspension, the Angels will have been dealt a serious blow in their efforts to build on last year’s success.

 

Mike Trout Wants To Steal More Bases in 2015

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Mike Trout told Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times that he is aiming to accomplish two goals in 2015: Steal more bases and cut down his strikeouts.

Trout, 23, is arguably the top option in every fantasy baseball draft, and would become more valuable to fantasy owners. His stolen base numbers have fallen from 49 in 2012 to 33 in 2013 to just 16 in 2014.

Meanwhile, he struck out a career-high 184 times last season, up 48 from 2013.

Dodgers Sign Chad Gaudin To A Minor League Deal

Could Chad Gaudin find his way into the Dodgers bullpen in 2015?  Photo Source: Bleacher Report.

Could Chad Gaudin find his way into the Dodgers bullpen in 2015?
Photo Source: Bleacher Report.

This morning the Dodgers made yet another addition to the pitching staff.

According to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com, the team has signed journeyman starter/reliever Chad Gaudin to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Gaudin, who turns 32 next month, was drafted in the 34th round of the 2001 amateur draft by the Devil Rays. He has since spent time with the Blue Jays, Athletics, Cubs, Padres, Yankees, Nationals, Marlins, and Giants.

In 2013 while with the Giants, Gaudin went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, a 88/40 K/BB ratio and an opponent’s batting average of .227 in 30 games. Of those 30 games, he started 12 of them. He fared better as a reliever (2.05 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, .212 opponent’s batting average, 28/14 K/BB ratio in 30.2 innings) versus as a starter (3.53 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, .234 opponent’s batting average, 60/26 K/BB ratio in 66.1 innings).

After the 2013 season, Gaudin signed with the Phillies last spring but failed his physical after the doctors discovered he had a pre-existing neck injury. Gaudin did not pitch at all in 2014.

When healthy, Gaudin works with four pitches. He has a four-seam fastball that sits around 90 to 93 mph, a two-seamer that sits around 89 to 92 mph, a slider that sits around 79 to 82 mph and a changeup that sits around 86 to 89 mph. His slider is mainly used against right-handed hitters while his changeup is used almost exclusively against lefties.

Gaudin gives the Dodgers insurance as both a starter and a reliever, but if he is going to win a spot for Opening Day it will likely be out of the bullpen.

When asked by Gurnick, Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly said Gaudin will be used in a multiple innings relief role.

Andre Ethier: Right Place. Wrong Time.

Can someone be at the right place at the wrong time?

As strange as that phrase may sound it is possible.  Just ask Andre Ethier. The disgruntled Dodgers outfielder has not shied away from his discontent the last couple of years as his playing time has gradually diminished. Ethier has recently started to express his frustration.

“I want the opportunity to play every day. My mind hasn’t changed from when I told you guys that a couple of months ago” Ethier said. “I feel like when I get a chance to play every day, I put up the numbers they ask of me. For some strange reason, it just happened that coming off a good 2012 season, in 2013 they took games away. You start to wonder why that happened. I feel like if I get a good full year in and get the at-bats, it starts to add up. It’s tough when you get 300 at-bats and you’re expected to hit 15 or 20 home runs.”

In an attempt to rebut Ethier’s comments let’s state the obvious.

Every major leaguer wants to play every day, but the truth is that not every major leaguer is good enough to play every day. Dodgers fans know that Ethier can’t hit left-handed pitching. Since 2007 Ethier has always hit under .300 against southpaws and even during his All Star years of 2010 and 2011 his average versus lefties has been slightly above the unsatisfactory Mendoza line of .200.

Ethier has had the opportunity to be an everyday player since his arrival to Los Angeles. Has he made the most of it? Have his numbers improved?  Ever since 2006 when he averaged .351, his batting average versus lefties has dropped. In 2007 he hit .279, in 2008 it dropped to .243, and in 2009 he went all the way to .194.  There’s improvement in 2010 when he hit .233, but then in 2011 he hit .220 and from 2012-2014 there has not been a significant change change.

In case Ethier is still wondering why games have been taken away since 2013, in the words of Andrew Friedman, “information is king.”

The numbers don’t lie.  Even when the opportunity has been there the improvement has not been evident.

Just imagine, it’s late in the game.  The Dodgers, trailing by a run or two, start to rally with runners in scoring position, two outs, and Ethier comes up to the plate.

If he’s not facing a lefty at this point, the opposing manager will bring in a lefty. I think we all know how this scenario ends.

Besides all the issues with hitting lefties, as an outfielder there is much to be desired.  To this fan’s eye, Ethier displays below average fielding and below average speed.

Andre has had good moments as a Dodger but it seems like his days in Dodgers blue are numbered. As a member of a team with incredible talent up and down the roster, unfortunately stats and performance get magnified, and the weakest link will be exposed.

Whether Ethier ends up in Arizona, Baltimore or Boston, as rumors have placed him with those teams at varying points this off season and in the past, moving Andre Ethier will be one of the better moves the Dodgers can make right now.  Dodger Stadium is the best place to play baseball in the Major Leagues, but unfortunately it has become the wrong time for Mr. Ethier to continue being a Dodger.

The Dodgers’ New Regime & “What’s His Face” To Power 2015 Bullpen

Intro

“The Dodgers didn’t do enough to improve their bullpen this Offseason.” I keep hearing this and similar statements being thrown around all over the baseball media, radio, Twitter, and Dodgers blogs and fan pages. And they all have one thing in common-they’re all wrong.

To explain why, we must first take a little detour into two or three other franchises. Just two seasons ago, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics had the third and fourth lowest payrolls in all of major league baseball, spending $60.6 million and $57.8 million, more than only the Astros and Marlins.

Rays and A’s

But despite their traditionally low payrolls, they have both been legitimate contenders in recent years. Tampa Bay made the post season in 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013, and Oakland made it in each of the last three seasons -2012, 2013, and 2014. While starting pitchers log the majority of innings for every staff and are widely regarded as the key to any team’s overall pitching success, the bullpen has become signifanctly more crucial in recent years. These two franchises have had very effective pitching from top to bottom, especially over the last few years. In 2012, The Rays and A’s led the American League in ERA at 3.19 and 3.4, and in 2013 and 2014 they ranked fifth and second, respectively.

After the Moneyball Revolution, Billy Beane and the A’s philosophies to winning long-term while spending sparingly on their roster became the best unkept secret in the baseball world. While Tampa Bay and Oakland have different processes and leadership, no other organization in baseball has been as consistent at winning ballgames in such small markets.

Billy Beane’s approach to “Moneyball” inspired a hit movie and has also inspired a lot of baseball executives to take deeper looks into statistical analysis when assembling and evaluating their teams.

Two of the great business and baseball minds behind their success were Andrew Friedman, who served as the General Manager of the Rays, and Farhan Zaidi, who was the A’s Director of Baseball Operations.

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' new President of Baseball Operations, observes spring training drills at Camelback Ranch on February 20th, 2015.  Photo courtesy of @DaaDozer

Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ new President of Baseball Operations, observes spring training drills at Camelback Ranch on February 20th, 2015. Photo courtesy of @DaaDozer

Last season, Joe Posnanski of NBC Sports profiled Zaidi’s background, talent and specific skill sets: “He studied economics from MIT and got his PhD in economics from Cal Berkeley; someone with some sense is going to make him their team’s general manager very soon.”  Posananski was right.

The Dodgers improved their overall franchise and in turn their bullpen this offseason before acquiring any players, when they plucked both of these guys from their small market franchises-hiring Friedman as the new President of Baseball Operations, and Zaidi as the new General Manager; marking 2015 as the first season under the new regime in L.A.

Dodgers GM Zaidi Farhan

Dodgers GM Zaidi Farhan takes to Twitter to answer fan questions, but more often uses his laptop to analyze player statistics and build competitive Major League Baseball teams.

Trends and Philosophy

Friedman and Zaidi have a unique philosophy when it comes to constructing a strong pitching staff and bullpen. One of these methods is known as “buying low.” In practice, this means signing pitchers who are coming off a less impressive year, but also possess the potential to have a strong bounce-back season and are willing to agree to a short-term, cost effective deal, while having a lot to prove.  Another trend is “depth,” which has been described by Friedman as having a high amount of arms with multiple options, and a diverse and dynamic slew of pitchers. Instead of “quality over quantity,” this signifies a different method: quality from quantity.

Philosophy In Action-Rays and A’s

While Friedman was pulling the strings in Tampa, he seemed to continuously strike lightning in a bottle with bullpen arms. Take Australian reliever Grant Balfour as an example. After having little to no success and struggling to hold a major league spot for the Twins and Brewers between 2001-2007, Balfour was eventually designated for assignment by Milwaukee. Friedman then traded for the 30-year old Balfour in exchange for pitcher Seth McClung in July of 2007.  In 2008, Balfour had a breakout season in his first full year with the Rays, posting a 1.54 ERA in 58 innings. He quickly became one of the top veteran relievers in baseball and became an All-Star in 2013, with Zaidi’s A’s.

Grant Balfour closing out a game for the Oakland Athletics.  Source: Getty Images

Grant Balfour closing out a game for the Oakland Athletics. Source: Getty Images

How about current Dodgers lefty J.P. Howell? Drafted in the first round by the Royals in 2004, Howell began his career as a starting pitcher, but had little success. In 2005, he went 3-5 with a 6.19 ERA in 72 innings. In 2006, Friedman acquired Howell via trade for infielder Fernando Cortez and outfielder Joey Gathright. Two years later, the Rays moved him to the bullpen where he flourished, going 6-1 with a 2.22 ERA while striking out 94 batters in 64 games.

Howell’s case is different than Balfour in that his breakout season came at the age of 25, but it displays that Friedman’s Rays also thrived in their development of younger pitchers. Friedman and Howell are now reunited with the Dodgers, along with recently acquired righty Joel Peralta, who also had success pitching in Tampa Bay.

Under Zaidi and Beane in Oakland, similar trends occurred with solid bullpen players who seemingly came out of nowhere. Dan Otero didn’t break into the majors until the age of 27, when he threw only 12 innings for the Giants and got hit hard with a 5.84 era. Zaidi picked him up, and the next season he posted an impressive 1.38 ERA in 2013 for Oakland, followed up by a 2.30 ERA campaign in 2014 with a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Another current A’s reliever, lefty Fernando Abad, was originally signed by the Astros in 2005 out of the Dominican Republic. In three seasons with Houston, Abad struggled, going 1–11 with a 5.10 ERA in 88 games while striking out just 65 in just over 84 innings.  After signing a minor league contract with the Nationals and getting DFA’d, Abad was acquired by Zaidi and Beane for minor league outfielder John Wooten.  Last season for Oakland, Abad posted an exemplary 1.58 ERA in 57 innings, while striking out 51 and walking only 15 batters.

These four relievers are just a few of many that Friedman and Zaidi had a hand in discovering, acquiring, and building into effective, every-day major league pitchers. Further, not only were these ‘pen arms effective, they were also extremely cost efficient.

During his breakout season in 2008, Grant Balfour only earned $500,000, and J.P Howell made less than $400,000, as the two relievers made a World Series run with Friedman’s Rays.  For Oakland, Dan Otero made just over $502,000 in 2014, and Fernando Abad made just under $526,000.  While the average relief pitcher makes nowhere close to what most starting pitchers earn, these are all very affordable deals for high quality relief pitching.

Before becoming a key part of the Dodger bullpen, J.P. Howell helped the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series in 2009.  Image source: zimbio.com

Before becoming a key part of the Dodger bullpen, J.P. Howell helped the Tampa Bay Rays to the World Series in 2009. Image source: zimbio.com

The 2014 Dodgers Bullpen

One year ago today, the Dodgers believed they had their own star-studded bullpen which was being touted pre-season as one of the best in baseball. L.A. had standout closer Kenley Jansen in the prime of his career along with three other former All-Star closers all on one staff-Brandon League, Chris Perez, and Brian Wilson.

The 2014 Dodgers bullpen, much like the starting lineup, was largely a group of players with recognizable names, big recognizable contracts, and pitchers who were just a year or two (or three) removed from All-Star status. But by September, only two of these four were solid contributors. Wilson and Perez were liabilities on the mound, to the payroll, and were ultimately complete busts. Wilson made $10 million, while posting a bloated ERA of 4.66, giving up 25 earned runs and 49 hits in just 48 innings.  Perez was paid $2.3 million, finishing his poor performance with a 4.27 ERA, striking out just 39 while walking 25 batters in only 46 innings.

Jansen and League were effective down the stretch, but many still questioned the consistency of League in the set up role. League had a nice ERA of 2.57 and logged over 67 innings, but his 27 walks to 38 strikeouts got him into a lot of tough jams, causing Dodgers coaches and fans many anxiety-ridden late-game situations down the stretch.

Kenley Jansen has been a key part of the Dodger bullpen, but bridging the gap between the starting rotation and the 9th inning has been a problem for the Dodgers.

Kenley Jansen has been a key part of the Dodger bullpen, but bridging the gap between the starting rotation and the 9th inning has been a problem for the Dodgers.

Royals vs. Dodgers

Baseball writers and analysts love to use the 2014 Kansas City Royals‘ bullpen as a prime example of a deadly arsenal of under-the-radar type pitchers who were assembled to eventually become a unified, dominant force. During their World Series run, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland became known as the “three-headed monster,” blowing away opposing hitters at the end of games, which completely altered the outlook of their pitching attack, and helped to catapult their squad to becoming American League champs.

But the Kansas City “three-headed monster” was somewhat of a “What’s His Face” crew considering how far they had to come to become relief royalty. While Greg Holland was a reigning All-Star closer, Kelvin Herrera was just a fire-baller with a 3.86 ERA who had control issues in 2013.  And Wade Davis, a converted set-up man, was one of the worst starting pitchers in baseball in 2013, going 8-11 with a 5.32 ERA.

Wade Davis was an unsuccessful starter before finding his niche as a reliever for the Kansas City Royals in their 2014 American League Championship season.

Wade Davis was an unsuccessful starter before finding his niche as a reliever for the Kansas City Royals in their 2014 American League Championship season.

In retrospect, not knowing what we know now, if it was the winter of 2013 and you had to start your 2014 fantasy baseball team with a bullpen of Jansen, League, Perez and Wilson, or Herrera, Davis, Holland and Aaron Crow, I would bet most of you would’ve chosen the Dodgers squad. I know I would have.

I don’t fault former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti one bit for the moves he made the last few years. The new ownership group basically handed him a blank check, so he went out and snagged the best baseball talent he could find and threw them together on one roster. L.A. came close to reaching the Fall Classic a few times, but it wasn’t quite enough.

After watching the Dodgers bullpen get blasted again in the 2014 postseason by the St. Louis Cardinals, having strong reservations about the 2015 squad is understandable. But the lesson we can learn from the Royals and even the World Series champion Giants (ouch! ouch..I know..) is that often times, the best bullpens in baseball are ones that appear to be make-shift on paper, or a bunch of “What’s His Face” guys at season’s start. We also learned from the Colletti era that a bunch of big names and big contracts doesn’t necessarily equal big wins in big games in October.

The Dodgers Now

So, here we are again, pitchers and catchers getting in their first workouts at Camelback Ranch for Spring Training in late February. And once again, Friedman and Zaidi look at a long depth chart of relief pitchers that altogether have been awarded very few all star appearances or big contracts. But this is not the Rays and this is not the A’s, this the Dodgers. In their past respective franchises, Friedman and Zaidi had no choice but to gamble on a few of these “What’s His Face” relief pitchers, knowing they could not afford to sign relievers to long term, big contracts. So, how will the 2015 Dodgers bullpen be different? And how will they be better?

“Depth and flexibility.” We keep coming back to these terms being tossed around daily by the new Dodgers front office. Some fans and writers have a solid grasp on the concept and believe that it works, while many others are skeptical. But what does “depth and flexibility” really mean for this crew?

With the limitations of small budgets gone, Friedman and Zaidi are now stockpiling as many low-risk, high reward arms as possible, like two kids in a candy shop who just got paid their allowance. A $261.6 million allowance. Now they have the freedom and resources to sign several pitchers with no reservations; pitchers who have been previously released, traded, or unsigned, now playing with a huge chip on their shoulders.

The foot injury to incumbent Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is going to sideline him for approximately 2-3 months. This would seemingly be a major blow to what was an already fragile bullpen last season. But this group is deeper, and ready to step in.

Just as they did with Balfour, Howell, Otero and Abad, Friedman and Zaidi are looking once again to catch a few strikes (or strike-throwers) of lightning in a bottle. Projecting that Howell, League and Chris Hatcher have productive seasons again and Jansen recovers smoothly from his foot injury, they would seemingly need a just few more solid and consistent arms to fill out the ‘pen in 2015.

Chris Hatcher, seen here at Camelback Ranch on February 20th, 2015, may be a significant piece at the back end of the Dodger bullpen this season.

Chris Hatcher, seen here at Camelback Ranch on February 20th, 2015, may be a significant piece at the back end of the Dodger bullpen this season.

Most MLB bullpens have about seven or so relievers on their 25-man rosters, and the the Dodgers can count up to at least a whopping 21 possible bullpen arm options in their current system going into 2015 spring training:

Returners:  Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Pedro Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, Daniel Coloumbe

New guys: Chris Hatcher, Joel Peralta, Juan Nicasio, Adam Liberatore, Mike Bolsinger

Non Roster Invitees: David Aardsma, Sergio Santos, David Huff, Erik Bedard, Ben Rowen, Ryan Buchter

DL: Kenley Jansen, Chris Withrow

For a full view of the Dodgers’ spring training roster, click here.

Yeah, I know, there are some names on this list that I didn’t recognize at first either. But the exciting part about stacking up so many guys is that any one of these “What’s His Face” guys could possibly emerge as a solid piece at some point this season. This is a diverse group of pitchers; they’ve got power arms such as Baez, Hatcher, Garcia, and the injured Withrow, finesse strike-throwers such as Peralta, Rodriguez, Howell and Bedard, and even a submariner in Ben Rowen. And this list doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the farm system pitchers, with six of the Dodgers top ten prospects being hurlers.

Fellow correspondent Ernie Villa of West Coast Bias Sports breaks down some of these bullpen options, specifically highlighting David Aardsma, Erik Bedard, David Huff, Sergio Santos, along with potential rookies Chris Anderson and Julio Urias.

Though the Dodgers have been linked to veteran relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez, Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain this offseason, I hope they don’t sign any of these guys or any other additional multi-million dollar bullpen pitcher for that matter- because they simply don’t need them.

My 2015 Dodgers Bullpen

Here’s my pre-spring training preference configuration of what the Dodgers relief staff should look like on Opening Day:

Long Relief: By Committee

Middle Relief: (R)Brandon League, (L)J.P. Howell, (R)Chris Hatcher, (R)Joel Peralta, (L)Daniel Coulombe, (R)Yimi Garcia

Set-Up: By Committee

Closer: (R)Pedro Baez

Next Guy In: (R)David Aardsma

As mentioned earlier, despite losing in the playoffs, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, and Kenley Jansen had very nice seasons in 2014 and should slot back into their spots in the ‘pen this year. Chris Hatcher, acquired from the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade, has a live fastball and posted a 3.38 ERA with an impressive 60 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 56 innings.

While veteran righty Joel Peralta struggled last season, he has remained consistent by tossing a substantial amount of innings each year and getting the ball over the plate, as he walked only 15 batters last season for the Rays.

The Dodgers seem to be high on young lefty Daniel Coulombe, who will battle with Paco Rodriguez as the second left-handed reliever in the bullpen behind J.P. Howell. I think that Rodriguez could struggle again as he did in 2014 and start the season in AAA, leaving Coulombe with an open spot to win this spring.

Paco Rodriguez shows off the 3/4 delivery at Camelback Ranch, February 20th, 2015

Paco Rodriguez could be the second left-handed arm out of the Dodger bullpen if he can regain his 2013 form, but will have to compete with another young lefty, Daniel Coulombe, for that spot.

I believe that 24-year old Dominican righty Yimi Garcia is due for a breakout rookie season, as he possesses great stuff and impressed Dodgers leadership last September, giving up only two earned runs in ten innings, while striking out nine batters and walking only one.

Eric Becker of West Coast Bias Sports makes the case for in-house candidate Pedro Baez as the next best option to fill the closer role while Jansen is out. I completely agree with Becker, as Baez showed promise last season and possesses electric stuff. Similarly to Kenley Jansen, Baez is also a converted position player, as he is still learning the intricacies of pitching at the major league level. With the right training and development, he could emerge as a supreme power arm for back end of the Dodgers bullpen this season.

Pedro Baez and his 96 mile an hour heat may get a chance to fill the closer role for the Dodgers to start the 2015 season.

Pedro Baez and his 96 mile an hour heat may get a chance to fill the closer role for the Dodgers to start the 2015 season.

Who will be the middle relievers and set-up man?

This group is my top choice now, but it will probably change 20 times or so over the course of the season. And thats okay. The beauty of having true depth in a pitching staff of 21 or more possible candidates is that it serves as a legitimate insurance plan for many of the aches and pains a bullpen will incur throughout a long season; such as injuries, inconsistency, or overall poor performance. Many have speculated that the lack of middle relief depth in the 2014 Dodgers staff ultimately led to their downfall in the postseason.

But this new assemblage is already deeper, more balanced, and hungrier. To get a pitching staff through an arduous 162 game season of over 1,458 innings, it takes a village. And this village is built to win.

 

Dodgers-LowDown Pictures and Video from Camelback Ranch, February 24th, 2015

Dodgers-LowDown was on-site at Camelback Ranch once again this morning and got some great footage of what’s going on at Spring Training.  Check out the latest gallery from @DaaDozer and see a little video footage that was shot live.

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Here’s some bonus footage of Clayton Kershaw working on his pickoff move to second base.