The Los Angeles Dodgers have made no secret about their offseason pursuit of a front-of-the-rotation starter to pair with ace Clayton Kershaw, keeping them as legitimate World Series contenders.
The options are abundant, and they include their own free agent, Zack Greinke, who is likely to approach the game’s next $200 million payout. Signing a top-end starter seems almost inevitable for the Dodgers, but so too should be a massive bullpen upgrade, as that part of the club has been a soft spot over the last two years.
Considering the Dodgers’ desire to collect the best talent available and with monetary cost of relatively minimal concern, they have to go after the best reliever available. That would be Cincinnati Reds flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman, a dominant back-end arm the Dodgers could pair with current closer Kenley Jansen to build the best 1-2 bullpen punch on the planet.
The Dodgers could name either player the closer or mix and match them in the eighth and ninth innings depending on matchups. Either would work as long as they each bought into the arrangement a year before both can become free agents. The thought has already crossed the bright front-office minds in Los Angeles, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, who reported on Nov. 23 that the Dodgers have checked in with the Reds about their closer.
MLB Network Radio's Casey Stern believed the Dodgers' reported interest in Chapman to be wise:
Since becoming the Reds’ full-time closer in 2012, Chapman has compiled a 1.90 ERA, 145 saves, a 1.74 FIP, 206 ERA+, 0.958 WHIP and has averaged 16.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 4.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has also made four consecutive National League All-Star teams and is coming off a year in which he had a 1.63 ERA.
FanGraphs’ WAR calculations, which put heavy emphasis on strikeouts, has Chapman as the most valuable reliever in the majors since 2012. Kimbrel is second, with Jansen pulling in the bronze medal.
Putting two of those arms in the same bullpen, even for one season, could be a franchise-changing move that would go a long way in helping the Dodgers succeed in October, a month in which they have disappointed the last two seasons in part because they did not have trustworthy relievers before Jansen.
The Dodgers featured Kershaw and Greinke in last season’s rotation, but it was a jumble of questions beyond those two for much of the year, including the playoffs. Couple that with an unreliable bullpen—its 3.86 ERA over the last two years ranked 23rd in the majors—and it led to early postseason exits for a team with the game’s highest payroll.
So even if the Dodgers re-sign Greinke—who had the lowest ERA in the majors last season—or sign another top-tier starter and get back a healthy Hyun-jin Ryu, it still leaves them with significant bullpen holes before Jansen. In the age of building dominant bullpens to mask mediocre rotations, the Dodgers should go this route, even though their rotation could end up better than most.
That leads the discussion back to Chapman, although the Reds' asking price of major league-ready players, per ESPN's Jayson Stark, may prove prohibitive. Instead, the Dodgers are reportedly in hotter pursuit of lower-profile relievers, including Darren O’Day, who might be the best free-agent reliever on the market:
Heard today that the #Dodgers are pursuing Darren O'Day "big time.'' It was the 2nd person in a week to mention it.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 19, 2015
"He'll probably get it from the Dodgers," one rival general manager told Heyman.
The Dodgers have the prospects to go after Chapman, though. He is projected to make about $13 million next season, per Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com, and the team could pull it off without giving up its best and brightest youngsters such as Corey Seager, Julio Urias or Jose De Leon. Chapman is worth the cost in money and players, and the Dodgers have the need for him.
While this is a short-term fix since Chapman and Jansen will be free agents after next season, it is the kind of temporary aid that could lead to the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988 should the Dodgers shock the market and deal for him.
All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.