Much has been said about the Los Angeles Dodgers and their seemingly limitless budget, and it seems as though the team’s pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka is somewhat of a tipping point in terms of the perceived balance of financial power in Major League Baseball. While the Yankees are desperately in need of pitching, the Dodgers already have what figures to be one of the best rotations in baseball. Despite many claims that the Dodgers are simply spending because they can, their pursuit of Tanaka signals a lingering doubt among Dodger executives regarding the depth of the 2014 rotation.
Perhaps the reason for this doubt stems from last year’s pitching debacle, in which the Dodgers went from having far too many starting pitchers to not having enough in what seemed like a moment’s notice. Considering that Stephen Fife and Matt Magill earned early-season starts due to injuries, it is fair to say that Stan Kasten and Ned Colletti are not sure that the rotation is strong enough, or deep enough, as it currently stands.
The current rotation does look great on paper, featuring Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren and Josh Beckett, with Chad Billingsley hoping to return sometime in June. Closer examination reveals that beyond Kershaw and Greinke, there are some potentially major issues that may present themselves.
Ryu had an outstanding rookie season, transitioning smoothly from Korea while posting a 3.00 ERA and earning some Rookie of the Year votes. His playoff results were mixed, as he succumbed to nerves against the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS only to bounce back to shut out the St. Louis Cardinals over seven innings in the NLCS. There is no guarantee that Ryu will continue to perform at the level he did in his debut year, and there were some injury concerns during the playoffs. Of the potential rotation issues, however, Ryu seems the most likely to perform well again in 2014.
The Dodgers signed Haren to a very team-friendly deal this offseason with the hope that his strong second half of 2013 would carry over to the 2014 season. Haren was extremely ineffective as a member of the Washington Nationals during the early portion of the season, and while a bounce-back year is possible and perhaps even likely, Haren is nowhere near the pitcher he was during his peak.
Beckett is coming off of major surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season. What started out as numbness in his fingertips led to surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Beckett has been up and down over the past few years, and while he was better as a Dodger than he was at the tail end of his Boston Red Sox run, his peripherals indicate that he is also far from his peak abilities.
When evaluating the current rotation and the potential issues that may present themselves, the Dodgers’ pursuit of Tanaka seems to make more sense. This is not about flexing financial muscle, this is about addressing an area of need within the rotation. The addition of Tanaka pushes Haren into the role of fifth starter, allowing Beckett and Billingsley to avoid having to rush back from surgery. If something happens to a rotation member, there are two experienced starters waiting in the wings to take the ball.
If Tanaka, whose split-finger pitch is said to be devastating, can live up to a fraction of the hype that his 24-0 win-loss record and 1.27 ERA have generated stateside, he will be a solid addition to an already sterling rotation. It will also give the Dodgers added depth, something they may be very concerned about given the rash of injuries their starters suffered through at the onset of the 2013 season.
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