Being the odd man out can be a tough pill for any professional athlete to swallow. Doing so after seven successful years in the same major league organization makes things even more difficult.
Chad Billingsley was a highly-touted 21 year-old prospect when he debuted with the Dodgers back in 2006. He finished the year with a 7-4 record and a 3.80 earned run average which seemed to signal a bright future for the Defiance, Ohio native. His rookie campaign earned him a consistent starting spot in the Dodgers’ starting rotation where he served as a key contributor to a fluctuating rotation from 2007-2012.
During that time Billingsley went 73-57 on the hill, and earned a reputation as a solid performer for one of the NL West’s best teams.
Unfortunately, Billingsley fell victim to the well-known Tommy John Surgery after complaining of elbow pain after just two starts into the 2013 season. Tommy John Surgery can take over a year to heal properly for some athletes, which was certainly the case for Billingsley.
The injury initially created a void for the Dodgers’ pitching staff, and when it was apparent he wouldn’t be available in time for the start of the 2014 regular season, the team filled that opening in the starting rotation.
The free-agent addition of Dan Haren in the offseason completed the five-man starting rotation for the Dodgers, leaving Billingsley without a full-time spot even when he is healthy. Haren’s consistent performance has solidified his spot in the rotation, which would make it tougher for Billingsley to come back with a consistent role right away.
One question that arises is what the Dodgers will do with Billingsley and his current $12 million/year salary. While it’s apparent that the Dodgers have the capability to just eat most of the contract and trade away their former starter, it could be in their best interest to keep him around.
With injury concerns for Hyun-jin Ryu and Josh Beckett to go along with the aging Haren, the Dodgers could be looking at a lack of starting pitching depth going forward. Seeing as Billingsley has still not reached the age of 30, it is safe to assume that if he can avoid the injury bug over the next few years that he can return to previous form.
In a division where the Giants have proven twice that pitching wins championships, the Dodgers will likely rely on the right arm of Chad Billingsley for the next few seasons. His innings will need to be monitored to ensure no repeat injuries arise, but his upside is high enough that he must be considered.
At the very least it’s possible Billingsley could be utilized in a relief role in his first few months back from injury, to keep his innings low and get him used to throwing in game situations again.
Regardless of how the Dodgers will choose to use Chad Billingsley going forward, it seems obvious that it’s in their best interest to keep him around.