How Dodgers Can Improve Rotation Without Big Increase to Already Bloated Payroll

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIINovember 19, 2013

The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking to complete their starting rotation this offseason by adding two more arms, but the team can't afford to go after any big-name hurlers.

As Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles writes, the team only has three "bankable" options in the rotation in Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. However, the team will need two more guys in its starting rotation on Opening Day.

While Saxon notes that guys like Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are working their way back from injuries, they are too unreliable to count on at this moment.

Saxon also discusses how the team is not ready to call up any prospects to fill out its rotation.

The Dodgers don’t seem confident in their internal options at the moment. That's not surprising since journeyman Matt Palmer led their Triple-A team in innings, Matt Magill struggled badly in his last two major-league starts, Stephen Fife got hurt and most of the team’s top pitching prospects were in Class-A ball last year.

So, other than hoping and praying that Billingsley and Beckett can return to form, how can the Dodgers address their starting pitching concerns without raising the second-highest payroll in baseball too much?

Let's find out.


Take a Chance on Shaun Marcum

Shaun Marcum has been on the decline since 2011, and he is coming off what was clearly the worst season of his career.

Shaun Marcum Stats (2011-13)
Baseball Reference

As you can see from the table above, Marcum looked like he was slowing down in 2012, but nothing could have prepared us for his disastrous 2013 campaign.

If losing double-digit games for the first time in his career in just 12 games isn't bad enough for you, Marcum also saw his season shortened by injury.

Marcum didn't make his season debut until April 27, and he required season-ending surgery in early July, with his last start coming on July 6.

This past year has just been a nightmare for Marcum, but he still has time to turn things around.

Marcum will turn 32 this December. He isn't too far removed from his prime, and it's very possible that he bounces back over the next season or two.

His value is at an all-time low, after being embarrassed in 2013. However, it might be a good idea for the Dodgers to pay him a small salary now in the hopes that he is able to get back to his old ways in 2014.


Scare Other Teams Away From Mike Pelfrey

At this point in his career, Mike Pelfrey looks like damaged goods.

He's coming off arguably the worst season of his career, posting the worst ERA of his career in a season in which he made at least 15 starts.

This comes on the heels of Pelfrey undergoing Tommy John surgery in April after just three starts. That ended his 2012 campaign, and appears to have affected his 2013 season as well.

The thing about Pelfrey is that there's a chance that he can work his way back from his injury.

Tommy John surgery is no joke, and it affects every pitcher differently. It's possible that Pelfrey's aging body simply needed more time to get back into shape.

It's also possible that Pelfrey simply struggled against the powerful AL bats he was facing as he pitched for the Minnesota Twins. He had to deal with some of the best offenses in the game, as the AL had eight of the top nine offenses in 2013.

A return to the NL and some more time to heal might be all Pelfrey needs to return to form, but there's always the question of his price tag.

It's difficult to judge how much money Pelfrey deserves at this point in his career, especially when considering his injury history. However, if the Dodgers can dissuade teams from giving Pelfrey big contracts and swoop in to grab him for less, this could be a great way to fill out the team's starting rotation.


Low Ball For Bruce Chen

A surprising number of fans reading this article will be thinking 'who the heck is Bruce Chen?!'

Chen has been an under-the-radar guy for his entire 15-year career, but the 36-year-old has proven to be a serviceable option over the past few years.

This guy isn't going to overwhelm hitters. His fastball had an average of just 86.6 mph in 2013 (per FanGraphs), as he instead beats opponents with his accuracy and movement.

Coming off a great year for the Kansas City Royals, Chen's value is on the rise. However, because he pitched as both a starter and reliever in 2013, some teams may be hesitant to use him as an answer to concerns in either department.

Chen went 9-4 with a 3.27 ERA and 1.18 WHIP this year in 34 appearances (15 starts). He proved the be effective as both a starter and a reliever, although he was slightly better as a reliever.

The biggest concern the Dodgers should have about Chen is his price tag. He was paid $4.5 million in 2013 and could be looking for similar pay in 2014. However, it would be a smart move by the Dodgers to at least inquire about Chen, and try to snag him for a low price if they can get him.


Shell Out a Few Million For Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes continues to be one of the most underrated players on the free agency market, and one of the best value players available.

The reasoning behind undervaluing Hughes isn't difficult to understand. He's been struggling over the past few years, and his progression is frightening.

Phil Hughes Stats (2011-13)
Baseball Reference

However, the reason why Hughes has been declining has been because of his tendency to give up home runs. Hughes has surrendered 59 home runs over the past two seasons, including 39 in the launching pad known as Yankee Stadium.

The fact that he is giving up so many home runs might not necessarily be Hughes' fault. He could simply be a by-product of the launching pad known as Yankee Stadium, which had the most home runs of any ballpark in 2012.

If Hughes were to play for the Dodgers, however, he would likely see a decline in the number of balls hit over the fences against him. Dodger Stadium had the sixth-fewest home runs of any MLB ballpark in 2013, which would greatly help Hughes.

Facing NL hitters in a pitcher-friendly park could be exactly what Hughes needs to become a good starting pitcher again, which makes him the ideal candidate for the Dodgers.


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