Say what you will about Ned Colletti and the best laid plans of mice and men. The Dodgers general manager pulls off an inspired move from time to time, and his buy-low pickup of Brandon League qualifies as a good example.
The common criticism about League’s having had “only one year as an effective closer” is silly, especially since the year was 2011, and it was an All-Star, 37-save, 2.79, 1.076 season while pitching for an awful 67-95 Seattle Mariners squad. You can’t excel in a position before you’ve been given the job, and 2011 was League’s first real opportunity.
In his attempt at an encore, he saved six, while blowing a couple last April, had a horrible May, blew two games in an up and down June, and lost his closer’s role in the process. Knowing all about his 2012 struggles, Los Angeles acquired League in a deadline deal for Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom July 30 hoping to fix them. It took them all of three weeks, in which League allowed nine hits and six earned in five innings of work, for whatever Rick Honeycutt and company were preaching to kick in.
From there on out, League was a lights-out closer. He picked up six saves and two holds the rest of the way, striking out 22 in 22 innings over 22 appearances in a month and a half, with all of one run crossing home plate. But numbers don’t tell the story. You had to watch him throw – the man was absolutely unhittable.
So $22 million for three years is a bit much. League will be 30 March 16, is accomplished enough, and at 414 career innings doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his right arm. And he wants to be a Dodger. I think you’ll be convinced as the season goes along, but Ned deserves credit for the find now.
With the ninth inning handled, Don Mattingly can run out Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario (despite his more-than-occasional weirdness) with confidence for the eighth and seventh respectively. And the National League will not like it. Come to think of it, with interleague play an everyday thing now, the American League won’t be pleased either.
Balking at 37-year-old Randy Choate’s contract ambitions (the Cards succumbed and are paying him $7.5 million over three years), Colletti signed 30-year-old J.P. Howell, late of the Tampa Bay Rays, to fill a lefty bullpen spot instead. $2.85 mil for 2013. Chalk up another one for Ned.
I’m not a fan of out-of-options Scott Elbert particularly, and if and when he comes back from two recent surgeries, with Paco Rodriguez in the picture, and if there’s a decent return, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the club deal him. Southpaws come and go in bullpens all the time. Elbert can go.
With four off-days scheduled the first three weeks of the season and their history generally, you’d expect the Dodgers to go with seven relievers on Opening Day, April 1, at home versus San Francisco. Depending on how the rotation holds up – and the disposition of potential surplus starters Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly – we might be looking at an eight-man bullpen for a time. Either way, the only four who would seem to be locked into their roles now are League, Jansen, Belisario and Howell.
Perhaps Capuano fills the second lefthander / long-man position, although L.A. rarely carries a long-man. Or perhaps Lilly gets that job, assuming he’s at full strength when the bell rings, which is no sure thing. Or perhaps Chad Billingsley blows out his elbow early and one of the above, or Harang, steps into the rotation. Maybe someone gets traded. Who the hell knows?
Non-roster invitees abound, and include former major leaguers Kevin Gregg, Greg Infante, Mark Lowe, Peter Moylan and Matt Palmer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them – probably Lowe or Moylan – make the final cut. Or not.
Also hanging around are Matt Guerrier and Javy Guerra – either of whom could be dealt during the spring (or not) – Shawn Tolleson, who I like a lot, and a number of minor leaguers you may have heard of. Or not.
The Dodgers turn over their relief corps all the time, both in the winter and during the season, and are consistently good at finding the right mix. Things may take a while to sort out, especially with those extra bodies and accompanying salaries, but the bullpen is a strong suit, and I’m not a bit concerned. In fact, I’m excited.