By Jon Weisman
For all the speculation about who the fifth starting pitcher in the Dodger rotation will be, there hasn’t been a ton of talk about the back end of the bullpen.
Let’s do a quick refresher of the remaining candidates for the (presumably) seven relief spots:
Right-handers (9): Pedro Baez, Joe Blanton, Louis Coleman, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, Chris Hatcher, Kenley Jansen, Matt West, Jamey Wright
Left-handers (3): Luis Avilan, J.P. Howell, Adam Liberatore
Most likely, the Dodgers need to shave four righties and one lefty from the above.
We’ll begin on the southpaw side. Though the Dodger front office hasn’t been shy about choosing a player with minor-league options over one who lacks them, it seems safe to say that for the start of the season, the Dodgers would keep Howell and either Avilan or Liberatore. Liberatore is more of a strikeout pitcher, but Avilan has the longer track record.
As for the right-handers: West and Wright are non-roster players, which puts them at a disadvantage. Assuming for the sake of argument they aren’t added to the 40-man by Opening Day, that leaves seven pitchers vying for five spots.
The interesting new wrinkle in the Dodger pen is Louis Coleman, who signed one month ago today and will celebrate his 30th birthday on Opening Day. Not that Spring Training stats would or should make or break a player’s fate, but Coleman’s five shutout innings with two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts offer a sense of how he’s looked to the naked eye.
As recently as 2013, Coleman had a 0.61 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 32 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. He slumped in 2014 after being sidelined most of Spring Training by a bruised finger on his pitching hand. Then, spending most of 2015 on the outside looking in at the World Series champion Royals’ bullpen, Coleman had a 1.69 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 64 innings for Triple-A Omaha.
Coleman is out of options, putting him in a group of righties that includes Blanton and Hatcher. Jansen does have options, but, you know, let’s get crazy and figure he sticks.
If you start the season with Jansen, Hatcher, Blanton (as the long reliever) and Coleman — and again, this is nothing more than speculation — the fifth right-handed spot in the bullpen would come down to Baez, Frias (who hasn’t shed the possibility of beginning the season as a starter in Triple-A) or Garcia.
That’s the state of the bullpen on March 19, 16 days before Opening Day … and maybe only 17 days before the first in-season roster move.