The Dodgers are operating at the winter meetings this week without an obvious need. They are the favorites to win the National League West for an eighth consecutive season as presently constituted. Instead of plugging holes, their chief objective is to upgrade the roster with elite players through free agency or the trade market to bolster their chances in October when sample sizes dwindle and a team’s depth becomes less important.
But one area they would like to address is the bullpen. As Andrew Friedman, the club’s president of baseball operations, said Monday, the desire to upgrade the relief corps is “omnipresent” for front offices. Rarely, if ever, is a team satisfied with its bullpen in December.
The most prevalent uncertainty in the Dodgers’ bullpen is closer Kenley Jansen. Once the game’s best reliever, Jansen’s effectiveness has tapered over the last two seasons after being used heavily deep into October the previous two years. In 2019 he compiled a career-worst 3.71 earned-run average in 63 innings and blew eight of his 41 save opportunities.
Friedman explained that he would like to add a reliever that “can get big outs late in a game,” but they aren’t looking to replace Jansen in the ninth inning.
“We’re viewing Kenley as our closer as we’re sitting here right now,” Friedman said. “Don’t see a scenario in which that changes, but I think our mindset is on acquiring talented players that fit in and will help us win games.”
The answer could come via trade. The Milwaukee Brewers reportedly are open to moving All-Star left-hander Josh Hader. If that’s the case, he’s the best option available this offseason. New York Mets closer Edwin Diaz is another trade candidate.
This offseason’s free-agent market is not brimming with top-tier options. Left-hander Will Smith, considered the best reliever available, signed early with the Atlanta Braves. Will Harris, 35, is the top right-hander on the market after posting a 1.50 ERA in 68 games with the Houston Astros last season.
The Dodgers could set their sights on a reclamation project like Blake Treinen or Dellin Betances. Treinen, whom the Dodgers have expressed interest in signing, was arguably the best reliever in the majors in 2018 when he had a 0.78 ERA and 38 saves as the Oakland Athletics’ closer. But the 31-year-old right-hander took a tumble last season, finishing with a 4.91 ERA and losing his job as closer.
Betances, 31, logged just two-thirds of an inning for the New York Yankees in 2019 after beginning the year with a shoulder injury and later tearing his Achilles’ tendon in his first appearance. He’s a hard-throwing four-time All-Star with a 2.36 career ERA, primarily as the Yankees’ set-up man.
The Dodgers have also been linked to Kevin Gausman, a former first-round pick who finished last season as a reliever for the Cincinnati Reds. Perhaps the Dodgers saw enough from Gausman in the role to believe he could bolster their bullpen. It’s a priority the Dodgers plan on addressing.