Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to arm themselves

The Dodgers finished 2012 like a scene out a war movie. The disabled list grew so much you could almost envision the medical tent scene from the film “Patton” where George C. Scott visits a group of wounded soldiers and ends up slapping the one soldier who is in the hospital for mental issues. Well, no one on the Dodgers has gone mental yet but the pitching injuries (seven pitchers are still officially on the disabled list) along with some mediocre performances (starters Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, and Josh Beckett were a combined 7-12 the final two months of 2012) may see the Dodgers overhauling their pitching staff this offseason.  So will they look in-house or out-house for help?

Zack Greinke will be the most sought after free agent pitcher this winter.

When Dodgers fans think of a trade with the Red Sox, most will think of the 2012 trade that brought Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett out west. But it may be the less-hyped 2011 trade the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Mariners pulled off that might also pay dividends in 2013. The Dodgers parted with their number one minor league prospect at the time, outfielder Trayvon Robinson, and ended up receiving three minor leaguers from the Red Sox farm system – catcher Tom Federowicz, and pitchers Stephen Fife and Juan Rodriguez. Rodriguez is still down in Single A but Fife might get a chance this March to beat his drums for a starting slot.

Fife, 26, was called up as an “emergency” starter in July and did well in his debut against the Phillies. He gave up just one run over six innings and left the game with a 2-1 lead. Unfortunately, reliever Ronald Belisario, who was lights out in June(one earned run in 12 appearances) but struggled in July(11 runs in 15 games), let it get away and the Dodgers lost 3-2.   Fife got four more starts and ended up going 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 2012.  He never surrendered more than two runs in any start and the Dodgers were shutout in both his losses. Fife’s opportunity will most likely hinge on what the Dodgers do in free agency.

Of course, the “Holy Grail” of free agent pitchers this season is the Angels Zack Greinke (15-5, 3.48 ERA in 2012 between the Brewers and Angels). The need for a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber, and pay scale, is due, in part, to the uncertain future of starter Chad Billingsley.

After the 2012 All-Star break, Billingsley looked ready to return to the “ace” form he showed in 2008(16-10, 3.14 ERA) as he ran off six wins in his six starts between July 23rd and August 19th.  He had pitched 15 scoreless innings before a poor start on August 24th ended up being the result of an inflamed elbow. Billingsley was gone for the season and the outlook for a return next spring is very questionable. If the elbow does not heal naturally, he may have to undergo Tommy John surgery which would cost him the 2013 season.

Although money is not an issue,  there is doubt as to just how serious a bidder the Dodgers will be for Greinke, if you can believe the comments coming from the ownership group.  Dodgers chairman Mark Walter hinted he might be reluctant to give a pitcher the kind of paycheck an everyday player like Matt Kemp or Adrian Gonzalez gets. “Pitchers break,” Walter said.

Another name popping up is James Shields.  The Tampa Bay Rays, not exactly among the big spenders, have the option to either pay him about $10 million in 2013 or buy him out for about 1/10 of that.  Shields, who will be 31 in December, went 15-10 in 2012 in spite of Tampa Bay’s poor offense. The Rays were 11th in the AL in runs scored,  ahead of only the Indians, Royals, and Mariners.  The “intangible” for Dodgers fans is that Shields grew up in Newhall, CA, about 30 miles north of Dodger Stadium.

Other names coming up are Miami’s Josh Johnson (8-14, 3.81 ERA) and the White Sox Jake Peavy (11-12, 3.37 ERA).  Miami is a mess and would probably love to have someone else pay Johnson the $13 million dollars he’ll command next season.  Peavy’s failure to produce down the stretch (he won only two of his last 11 starts in 2012) may have the White Sox looking to avoid picking up his $22 million option for 2013.

The most interesting name to crop up the last few days is the one you probably haven’t heard in this country, Shohei Otani. Otani is an 18 year old sensation in Japan who recently stated his desire to pitch here in the U.S.  Some are comparing him to Japanese import Yu Darvish,  who sparked a bidding war last year.  Darvish went 16-9 with the Texas Rangers in 2012.

18-year old Japanese pitching sensation Shohei Otani is expected to be wooed by several Major League teams,  including the Dodgers.

There is talk that the Dodgers will be dangling either Beckett, Capuano, or Harang as trade bait in an effort to clear out some payroll. The three are owed a combined $28 million next season.

In regards to the relief arms, the closer position is something the Dodgers didn’t think they’d have to worry about the next few years.  But 2011’s emerging star Javy Guerra (21 saves in ’11)  failed to duplicate his success in 2012 and another 2011 emerging star, set-up man and eventual closer in 2012, Kenley Jansen, has a health condition that could hamper a very promising career.

Jansen, (5-3 with 25 saves in 2012) suffers from a heart problem known as atrial fibrillation,  more commonly called an irregular heartbeat. It caused him to miss portions of last season. Jansen recently underwent a procedure called an ablation.

Cardiologists believe a heart goes “out of whack” due to defective tissue or muscle in the heart. An ablation is where a catheter is inserted into a sedated person, via their thigh, and doctors attempt to locate the defect. If they do, that portion of the heart is literally burnt away thereby curing the problem. Success rates have improved thru the years and are now up to about 70%.  Still, only time will tell if Jansen’s condition is healed.  If not, he may be a candidate for a pacemaker.

Reliever Brandon League, 29, was acquired in mid-season from Seattle. He went 2-0 and was 6 for 6 in save opportunities as an alternative to Jansen. He becomes a free agent this winter and his solid final month of 2012 may see him looking for a longer term deal than the Dodgers are willing to offer.

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