Don't let the second-best team ERA in the National League fool you. The Dodgers have one dominant starter in the rotation, and we all know who he is. Reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw is trying to defend his title with a stellar 2012 season, but he needs some help if his team is going to become a consistent contender.
Though offseason additions Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano have been much better than expected and more than serviceable, they are starting to crack down the stretch. Both have shown their true colors recently, especially Capuano, whose ERA is starting to rise faster than the Dodgers' payroll.
The other three main starting options are inconsistent to say the least—newly acquired Josh Beckett hasn't had a full shot with the Dodgers yet, but looked pretty good in his first start on Monday.
Chad Billingsley is on the DL after a dominant five-start stretch in which he looked unhittable, but Dodgers fans will tell you horror stories of the heavy-potential, low-reward righty. And waiver addition Joe Blanton has been downright awful.
My point is, no matter how much money and prospects the Dodgers spend on adding bats like Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, none of it matters if the pitching doesn't hold up.
And though they might scrape by this season and snag a playoff spot, there is a lot of work to be done before 2013 if they truly want to be taken seriously. Here are six suggestions for improving the rotation before next season.
The free-agent class this offseason will be pretty thin in general, but the pitching class especially doesn't have a ton of big headliners. Sure, there are some guys who can help a team. But no big fish like Cole Hamels or Matt Cain who would have looked nice in Dodger Blue.
Here are a few guys who are still relatively young, have had success in the past, and will be looking for a new home in 2013 and stood out to me:
"Big Game James" hasn't lived up to his moniker in 2012. He sure did in 2009 and 2011, though. Based off the very scientific formula that Shields only pitches well in odd-numbered years, he would be a fantastic addition to the Dodgers rotation in 2013.
In all seriousness, at age 31, this is a good option in the free-agent market. Shields shows no fear on the mound and likes taking the ball in pressure situations. And he has shown far more consistency than Billingsley this far into their careers.
Shields averages about 14 wins per season, hangs his ERA around 3.90 and will get you over 200 innings and 175 strikeouts each year.
Do the Dodgers take a chance on their cross-town rivals' former ace? Haren has succeeded at every level when starting, until inexplicably seeing a dip in production this season.
He has one of the best sinkers in baseball and usually phenomenal control. If the Dodgers could snag him as a free agent and he returns to form, they would have a ridiculous 1-2 in the rotation with Haren and Kershaw. Haren is only 31 right now and could have a few more very good years left in him.
Oh, by the way—Haren played college ball in Southern California and has an ERA below 2.00 since 2009 at Dodger Stadium.
Anytime you have the chance to add a 31-year-old former Cy Young winner, it's worth a look. And despite struggling in his first two years in Chicago with poor health and mediocre performance, Peavy has returned to form in a big way in 2012.
His ERA is back to its normal level, hovering around 3.00, and he can be one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball when he's on. If the Dodgers are willing to give Peavy a slightly expensive two-year deal, they could steal a second ace off the market.
At age 34, Lohse is the oldest of this bunch, but if 2012 is any indication, this is his prime. His 14-2 record, 2.64 ERA and 1.08 WHIP are all in play at the top of the leader boards among National League pitchers this year.
While Lohse is far and away enjoying the best year of his career and his first time in legitimate Cy Young contention, it's hard to believe he's just a late bloomer. I'd be wary of Lohse, but offering a one-year deal could be worth the risk.
This is probably the biggest risk on my list here. Santana has always been a guy with unlimited potential who has shown flashes of brilliance at the Major League level. His inability to string together a long streak of good starts is maddening though.
He has all the physical tools and nasty pitches to succeed, but there's just something missing. That being said, Santana has put together good numbers in years' past, and could fit nicely as a back-of-the-rotation option. Plus, he's probably coming on the cheap based on this year's performance.
There are two guys that will be free agents in 2013 that I lump into this category. Both have been stellar at certain points in their careers and still have a ton of promise for the future. But, they have both dealt with pretty serious injuries at different points that may have teams shying away from doling out a big contract.
It seems like McCarthy goes on the DL every two or three starts. But when he IS healthy, the guy is filthy dirty. In two seasons in Oakland that have been dotted with injuries, his ERA has never been above 3.32.
McCarthy is a legitimate top-of-the-rotation pitcher and could thrive in another pitcher's park at Dodger Stadium, especially when he's not the "ace." Assuming he has a clean bill of health, the Dodgers need to look hard at McCarthy to fill a rotation spot.
Marcum is 31 years old, so he has plenty left in the tank. And in his last full three seasons as a starter, Marcum never had an ERA over 3.64. He missed more than two months of 2012 with "elbow tightness," but he's pitched very well since starting rehab in the minors.
If Marcum returns to be the healthy, dominant pitcher the Brewers gave a big contract to, it might be worth a shot for the Dodgers to look into nabbing him. After all, an injured starter is better than Blanton at this point.
There are a few other guys who could be in this category, but would probably need to be had through a trade. To name a few, Brett Anderson and Tommy Hanson are unattainable due to the lack of prospect depth in the Dodger system. Jaime Garcia and Brandon Morrow are beloved by their teams, but they could potentially be had.
And the big fish, C.C. Sabathia is under a huge contract through 2017. Judging by the lack of firepower in that Yankees rotation, it would take an arm and a leg to get someone like Sabathia.
I thought of three starting pitchers who will be free agents come October or November and could be getting that one-, final two- or three-year deal before retirement. One of these names will be very familiar to Dodgers fans, and the other two might get you salivating:
I know he hasn't performed that great in Texas yet, but Dempster is a really solid option to fill a two or three spot in a rotation for a couple more years. Back in the National League in a pitcher's park, Dempster would rebound nicely.
He's going to be 36 in May of 2013, but clearly still has some good years in the tank. Otherwise, he wouldn't have been leading the National League in ERA for part of this season. In his last two seasons in Chicago, his ERA was well below 3.00.
Talk about late-bloomers. My goodness has Dickey ever become a revelation this season. You've got to love the attitude and confidence Dickey brings to the mound every time out, but throw in the fact that his numbers are among the leaders in the National League and he's absolutely someone teams will be clamoring after in free agency.
Dickey is one of a kind in that he throws a hard knuckleball. He's finally mastered that unique pitch and has been using it to baffle hitters all season long. I don't foresee teams magically figuring out how to hit the pitch over one offseason, so it's definitely better to have him on your side.
Dickey will be 38 years old next year, but as Tim Wakefield showed us, knuckleballers don't really have an expiration date.
Huddy is one of my favorite all-time pitchers, and for good reason. Despite occasional injuries, Hudson has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over his long career. He will be 37 at the start of the 2013 season, but is just six wins shy of 200 career, all while maintaining a cool 3.41 ERA.
If healthy, Hudson will work 200 innings and get you 150 strikeouts, plus 15 wins. There is no better calm, collected, capable veteran that will be on the free-agent market next year. And the Dodgers would be smart to at least explore a two- or three-year deal for the guy.
This is the new ownership's favorite pastime anyway, so why not keep the money flowing? There are a few big names the Dodgers could look into getting "cheap" in terms of players, in return for taking a big contract off a team's hands.
I have no doubt that the Dodgers had conversations with the Red Sox, Phillies and Marlins at the deadline about acquiring one of these arms anyway, but actually getting them on the roster would provide a significant boost to this rotation.
Lester has struggled a bit in 2012, but who on the Red Sox hasn't? He's a big-game pitcher, notorious slow starter, who will get you double-digit wins and a low ERA and near 200 strikeouts over the course of 30 starts. He is in his prime, and Boston is cleaning house anyway.
As a free agent after 2014, the Red Sox might consider trading him for a couple prospects instead of worrying about negotiating a fair deal in the 2014-2015 season. If the Dodgers pick him up, they have a solid lefty duo at the top of the rotation for at least two seasons.
It's no secret that the Dodgers wanted Cliff Lee this month when they claimed him on waivers. Lee is due tons of money from the Phillies, but we know that's not an issue in L.A. anymore. They would gladly eat the salary for a few years of one of the premiere starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Lee won the American League Cy Young in 2008 and has been in the mix for the award most years since then. He has impeccable control and good off-speed pitches, which have been his bread and butter. Signed through 2016, he would also provide a great one-two lefty punch in the rotation with Kershaw.
Apparently the only hefty contracts the Dodgers should consider trading for are those of very good left-handers. That's fine with me. Buehrle is another guy that could be on the move if the Marlins consider the organizational mea culpa and ship him off in the offseason as well.
Buehrle signed a four-year deal worth $58 million before the 2012 season, so the Dodgers could have him for three years if they swap a few prospects for the pitcher plus the contract. Buerhle is a crafty lefty veteran with nearly 175 career wins and good ERA and WHIP numbers.
There might also be some teams willing to trade for some of the Dodgers' Major League players. Guys like Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, Luis Cruz, Elian Herrera, Nick Punto, Juan Rivera and A.J. Ellis could be had for the right price. All are primarily light-hitting infielders, but all of them bring a very specific set of skills to the table that might help complete a lineup for a potential contender.
For example, we know Gordon has blazing speed. Cruz is maintaining a .300 average and playing brilliant defense since his call-up in early July. A.J. Ellis is a fantastic catcher who gets on base at a ridiculous clip.
And one positive coming out of the moves made by the Dodgers to add bats at the deadline and through waivers is that it makes the depth behind those new starters expendable and available.
Could one of these starters be acquired in a trade with a team who needs to bolster certain parts of their current rosters to get back into contention?
I think Masterson got a bad rap at the beginning of this year for struggling, but he is one of the most unique, talented pitchers in the game right now. Unfortunately, that might be just the reason that the Dodgers wouldn't be able to snag him.
At age 27, Masterson is going to hit full stride soon and could become a premiere pitcher. He has dirty stuff and good control of it. Plus his kooky delivery adds a little difficulty for the hitter. He isn't a free agent until 2015, but if the Dodgers could offer a couple established arms and a prospect, the Indians might be willing to talk.
This trade would be highly unlikely, considering how much the Cubs like Samardzija. Los Angeles might be better served taking a chance on a trade for the injured Matt Garza. But Samardzija is close to being a star at age 27, so he would be a hot commodity in the trade market if made available.
Samardzija strikes out a lot of guys, but has had his fair share of growing pains. If the Dodgers could harness his potential in a pitcher-friendly park, they could have a top of the rotation guy. I'm sure the Cubs would love a top of the order hitter like Gordon in a trade.
This might be another Dodgers fan pipe dream here, but how sweet would a 1-2 of Kershaw and Gallardo be? My goodness. At age 26, Gallardo has already put up four straight double-digit win seasons and is one of the quietest good pitchers in the National League.
The Brewers have him locked up through 2014 with a team option for 2015, so it would cost an arm and a leg to get him. But Milwaukee could definitely use bullpen help which the Dodgers have plenty of both in the Majors and minors. Maybe a Javy Guerra, Brandon League, Scott Elbert for Gallardo swap?
I'm sure every GM and his mother will be calling about Johnson if there are any indications whatsoever that he is available. Johnson has struggled in 2012, but was one of the better young pitchers in the game before getting injured.
Johnson is just 28 years old and holds a nifty 3.16 career ERA. Questions will surround his ability to bounce back after his injury, but if he does, he's a catch and a half. The Dodgers could pair him up with Kershaw and Billingsley and Beckett to make a pretty formidable rotation.
This would be the ultimate coup, but the baseball world has been hearing whispers of Hernandez being trade bait for over a year now. And while I personally would advise Mariners' GM Jack Zduriencik to not trade King Felix, I'd absolutely change my stance if my Dodgers were the beneficiaries.
Still, the M's could use a little more offensive pop and have three very young, very talented pitchers ready to bust onto the Major League scene in Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. I don't need to tell you about Hernandez' resume, but he is only 26 still and could maybe be had for a top minor league hitter and two or three Major League bats. Gordon is another possibility here.
Believe it or not, the Dodgers' minor league cabinet isn't completely bare after all the prospects they traded away over the last six weeks. Top pitching prospect Zach Lee is still in Double-A, along with a few other high-potential arms.
It would be a last resort, considering the Dodgers need a little firepower injected into that Major League rotation, but maybe give some of the young guys a shot in 2013.
Who knows? Maybe you get the next Michael Fiers or Wade Miley.
Stephen Fife is an intriguing option considering his success in a very short stint earlier this year in the bigs. Then you have guys like Aaron Miller, Matt Magill and Garrett Gould in Double-A who could potentially make the jump.
Ethan Martin and Chris Reed are big-time prospects who have yet to put it all together in the minors, but could still make an appearance in 2013, whether out of the bullpen or rotation.
In Triple-A, you also have John Ely who has had mixed results in big league stints, but has at least been there. No matter who the Dodgers go to in the minors, they could at least try to strike it rich by giving some of these guys a shot as the fifth starter in 2013.