7 Free Agents the Los Angeles Dodgers Should Pursue This Offseason
The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have a lot of holes to address this offseason after completing five in-season trades in 2012. But a number of injuries to key members of their pitching staff means that their is still work to do this winter.
Right-hander Chad Billingsley may miss the entire 2013 season if the elbow discomfort that ended his season on August 24 requires Tommy John surgery this winter.
The Dodgers also aren’t sure what to expect from left-hander Ted Lilly as he continues to work his way back from a left shoulder strain that prematurely ended his season in May. He’s unlikely to return to L.A.’s starting rotation next season, but could become a valuable member of the bullpen.
Closer Kenley Jansen is scheduled to undergo surgery that will hopefully cure him of the atrial fibrillation condition that has cost him parts of the last two seasons. His role for 2013 is uncertain, and if the Dodgers are unable to re-sign Brandon League, they may decide to seek other closing options in free agency.
Los Angeles also has questions in the field, but those issues will work themselves out internally.
The Dodgers don’t know exactly when Carl Crawford will return from Tommy John surgery in July, but he isn’t expected to be out beyond June 1 at worst. Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig should get a chance to prove himself at the major league level until Crawford is healthy.
Manager Don Mattingly will also need to figure out how to deploy the infield trio of Dee Gordon, Luis Cruz and Hanley Ramirez. Cruz deserves to remain a starter after a surprisingly strong 2012 season. That may force the Dodgers to consider trading Gordon to free up space in a crowded infield.
Since pitching help is the clear priority for Los Angeles, here are seven starters and relievers that the Dodgers should pursue once free agency begins.
1. Zack Greinke, RHP
If the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are unable to re-sign Zack Greinke before free agency starts in November, he’ll be the best available pitcher in this year’s market. The 2009 AL Cy Young award winner turns 29 on October 21 and has proven that he can be successful in both leagues.
Greinke was a combined 15-5 with a 3.48 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 34 starts for the Angels and Milwaukee Brewers. He proved that he could handle the pressure of a playoff race, going 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA, .209 batting average against and a 38:9 K/BB ratio in six September starts for Anaheim.
The Dodgers would love to slot Greinke behind Kershaw at the top of their rotation next season. That would give Los Angeles arguably the best 1-2 combination of starting pitchers in Major League Baseball.
2. Jake Peavy, RHP
Is Jake Peavy a $22 million-per-year pitcher? The Chicago White Sox will likely decide that the answer is no, making the 31-year-old right-hander an attractive free-agent option for the Dodgers.
Peavy made 32 starts and pitched more than 200 innings for the first time since winning the NL Cy Young award with the San Diego Padres in 2007. Not surprisingly, his ERA (3.37), WHIP (1.10) and strikeouts (194) are also the best numbers he’s posted in five years.
Peavy’s ability to stay healthy and pitch effectively played a major role in Chicago’s ability to push the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central division title.
His stellar 2012 campaign will also make it difficult for the White Sox to exercise the $4 million buyout clause in his contract that would make him a free agent this winter. However, Peavy is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career and he's already hired a new agent to help him through the process. In other words, don't expect him to negotiate a new deal with Chicago before testing the market.
The NL West is very familiar to Peavy, having spent the first seven-and-a-half years of his career in San Diego. A return to Southern California and the more pitcher-friendly National League could suit Peavy, and the Dodgers, just fine.
3. Ryan Dempster, RHP
The Dodgers failed in their attempt to acquire Ryan Dempster from the Chicago Cubs before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Now they’ll have a second chance to acquire the right-hander’s services without surrendering any prized prospects.
If Los Angeles can’t persuade Greinke to move up the freeway, Dempster would likely become their top pitching target. He expressed a desire to come to L.A. in July, and the Dodgers have had recent success filling out their rotation with veteran starters.
Dempster’s market value may have taken a bit of a hit after being traded to the Texas Rangers this summer.
The move to a hitter-friendly home park in the American League resulted in a 5.09 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 12 starts for Texas. Those numbers were in stark contrast to the 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP he posted over 16 starts for the Cubs in the first half of the year.
The second half struggles make Dempster more affordable for the Dodgers, and his age (he’ll be 36 on May 3) will prevent him from getting more than a three-year deal. Given the number of long-term contracts that Los Angeles is already committed to, he could be viewed as a relatively low-risk option for the rotation.
4. Kyle Lohse, RHP
Much Like Ryan Dempster, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Kyle Lohse has overcome a career of mediocrity to become one of the more attractive starting pitchers in this year’s free agent pool. In fact, he’s been St. Louis’ best starter over the past two seasons and would make a nice addition to the Dodgers rotation.
Lohse, despite three rough postseason starts, helped pitch the Cardinals to a World Series title in 2011 with a strong regular season. He followed that up by posting career-best totals in wins (16), ERA (2.86), WHIP (1.09), innings pitched (211) and strikeouts (143) in 2012.
Lohse also proved that he can be affective in the playoffs, earning the victory in St. Louis’ 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in the National League Wild Card game.
The Chico, CA native might enjoy the idea of returning home to finish out his career. At 34 years old, the Dodgers may find Lohse to be a more attractive free agent target than Dempster, especially given his extensive postseason experience (10 appearances and five starts since 2002).
5. Edwin Jackson, RHP
If Edwin Jackson can help pitch his current team (Washington Nationals) past the team that he helped lead to a World Series title in 2011 (St. Louis Cardinals), he could raise his free agent profile substantially.
Jackson failed to earn a multi-year contract last offseason despite a pretty good 2011 season split between the Cardinals and the White Sox. After settling on a one-year deal with the Nationals, his effort against St. Louis in Wednesday's Game 3 of the NLDS will go a long way towards determining his value this offseason.
Unlike Greinke, Dempster, Peavy and Lohse, Jackson has not demonstrated the ability to be a front-of-the-rotation starter throughout his nine-year career. However, Los Angeles might decide to bring him back home (he began his major league career in L.A. from 2003-05) for a year before exploring more attractive, long-term options after the 2013 season.
6. Ryan Madson, Closer
After notching a career-best 32 saves for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Ryan Madson was forced to accept a one-year deal as the Cincinnati Reds closer last offseason. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to prove his worth after a torn ligament in his right elbow cost him the entire 2012 season.
Now Madson’s misfortune could be the Dodgers’ gain, as he’ll likely have to settle for another one-year deal this winter.
Los Angeles would prefer to re-sign Brandon League since he’s a healthy, known quantity. If League and the Dodgers are unable to come to terms though, the team may opt to take a chance on Madson as insurance for Kenley Jansen.
7. Rafael Soriano, Closer
New York Yankees closer Rafael Soriano has a difficult decision to make about his future whenever the team’s postseason run is over. He has a $14 million player option for 2013, but could elect to take his chances in free agency by seeking a more lucrative multi-year contract.
A freak pregame injury in early May caused Mariano Rivera to miss the rest of the 2012 season. That allowed Soriano to step in and save New York’s annual World Series chase by converting 42 of 46 save opportunities, the third best total in the American League.
Coming off such a successful campaign, Soriano may elect to take a guaranteed opportunity to close over returning to a set up role for Rivera in 2013. While he’s unlikely to match the $14 million annual salary he’s guaranteed next year, he could earn himself more overall money with a two or three year deal from a team like the Dodgers.
Although he’s spent most of his career in the American League, Soriano is no stranger to the Senior Circuit having pitched for the Atlanta Braves from 2007-09.
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