After what seemed to be an eternity of an offseason for Dodgers fans – particularly after losing staff co-ace Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks – the Dodgers have apparently added not one, but two quality arms to their rotation in the past three days.
First it was announced that the Dodgers had signed 31-year-old veteran LHP Scott Kazmir on a refreshingly reasonable three-year, $48MM contract. Of particular interest in this contract is an opt-out clause after the first year. On its face this would seem to benefit Kazmir the most as he gets the opportunity to cash in big in a pitching-thin 2016 offseason should it be warranted by his performance in the upcoming season. My guess is that the Dodgers front office found this quite favorable too, however, and right in line with their goals of remaining competitive while getting younger and preserving the farm, since highly-touted prospects Julio Urias and Jose DeLeon figure to be major contributors to the major league club in 2017. As the Dodgers try to balance a win-now with a build-for-the-future approach valuing youth and roster flexibility, having Kazmir on a one-year showcase fits nicely with both immediate and long-term goals.
Dodger fans met news of Kazmir’s signing with a bit of muted relief, as they had been somewhat exasperated by the brutal chain of news of one targeted free agent pitcher after another signing elsewhere and watching as nearly completed transactions (Iwakuma, Chapman) were seemingly doomed by odd circumstances. The feeling never was that Kazmir was not a valuable addition – his track record speaks for itself – it just didn’t have the panache of, say, a Greinke or Cueto. Inducing further head scratching, however, is the fact that Kazmir is left-handed, and would be joining a pitching squad that – with a healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu – would now feature an all-left-handed arsenal from top to bottom. Thankfully, the Dodgers front office apparently had an answer for this lop-sidedness in the form of Japanese RHP Kenta Maeda.
While Kenta Maeda cannot officially sign with a big league club until one week from today, credible news breakers throughout baseball are confirming that Los Angeles will in fact be his landing spot. While many major league scouts seem to be somewhat reserved in their estimation of Maeda’s serviceability in MLB, pegging him as a bottom-of-the-rotation guy, I have argued that his stats speak to him being a solid number three option, if not a two.
In keeping with the theme of creative contract structuring, Andrew Friedman and co. have come up with possibly the most incentive-laden and guarantee-thrifty contract in modern baseball history. While still unconfirmed, rumor has it that Kenta Maeda, whose mileage on his 27-year-old arm made some front offices balk, has made a huge bet on himself and accepted a contract for 8 years with only $24MM (or $25MM, depending on who you ask) guaranteed. That’s an AAV of only $3MM, which certainly is not anything for a free agent, high-profile or otherwise, to boast about given this offseason’s jaw-dropping opulence. The catch is that a reported $10MM – $15MM is available annually in the form of performance incentives, the details of which have yet to surface. One would be inclined to believe that much of this additional pay would have to be fairly easy to earn, for example with innings pitched or appearances, otherwise Maeda’s bet would certainly be ill-advised and his agent would have to go into hiding.
So, as of today, assuming the Maeda deal is in fact iron-clad and that Hyun-Jin Ryu’s recovery remains on track, the Dodgers opening day rotation might look something like this:
Clayton Kershaw (L)
Hyun-Jin Ryu (L)
Brett Anderson (L)
Scott Kazmir (L)
Kenta Maeda (R)
This is an extremely solid rotation on paper. Clayton Kershaw is the clear ace of the staff (as he would be anywhere), while 2-5 here really could be shuffled any which way and an argument could be made for each iteration. If Ryu needs a bit more time, Alex Wood figures to fill in.
Of course, Brandon McCarthy is also due back from Tommy John surgery sometime around the All-Star break. If by some stroke of luck all seven of the aforementioned pitchers are healthy at that time, the Dodgers may find they have a welcome surplus of starting pitching for the first time in recent memory, and may have an arm to deal for a more advantageous piece in the playoff push. With the prospect of Jose DeLeon and/or Julio Urias also potentially contributing down the stretch, the Dodgers may for the first time in 3+ years have an abundance of quality arms to lean on after Kershaw.
Just to add a bit more intrigue to recent developments, the Dodgers’ front office may have added more combined WAR to their rotation with the signings of Kazmir and Maeda than they would have with the return of Greinke, for about half the price. Perhaps even the most petulant Dodger fans will now have to concede there was a method to the madness all along. It seems good things do come to those who wait.
Gerry Schwartzmeyer is a beat writer for Around the Horn Talk, an official affiliate of MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @pgeradactyl.