Clayton Kershaw is the ace of the Dodgers' rotation. Everything after… (Al Behrman / Associated…)
Look, just think of how bad it might have been. The Dodgers could easily be looking a winter of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley both coming back from off-season surgery.
Now with Billingsley looking like he will not need Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers could actually go to camp with six veteran starting pitchers -- Josh Beckett, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly, Kershaw and Billingsley.
And it still might not be enough. It shouldn’t be.
Lilly is coming off arthroscopic shoulder surgery and will be 37 in January. Harang and Capuano both will turn 35 in 2013. And there has to be some crossing of the fingers when it comes to Kershaw’s hip, and particularly, Billingsley’s elbow.
Even if they were all a bundle of happy health, there would still be a need for a staff upgrade. As a group, they did extremely well last season. Their combined 3.41 ERA was the third-best rotation mark in baseball.
But as has been mentioned just one or two times before, there is no clear No. 2 on the staff.
Billingsley certainly looked like it during six consecutive starts when he went 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA before his shoulder gave out, but remains difficult to count on. In his seven-year career, he’s won more than 12 games in a season only once.
Beckett has certainly been that guy in the past and showed flashes last year, but over his last three seasons he’s 26-27 with a 4.25 ERA. Lilly was that guy when he started last season 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA, just before his shoulder went out. Capuano had a nice 16-game stretch where he went 9-3 with a 2.39 ERA before again fading in the second half.
Yet if a team wants to win a World Series, they need to have that second guy they feel can be counted on. And right now, he’s not there.
If the Dodgers are looking at free agency to solve that problem, they’re in bit of a fix. The market sort of starts and stops with Zack Greinke. He’s probably looking for something at least around five years and $125 million, and given Chairman Mark Walter’s caution -- “pitchers break” -- the Dodgers may well look elsewhere.
The market for the next tier of free-agent starting pitchers is poised to be grossly overpaid. ESPN’s Buster Olney said he surveyed baseball executives who think the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse could earn close to the $77.5 million the Angels gave C.J. Wilson last year. Lohse is 34 and, though coming off his finest year, he was a career 102-106 with a 4.64 ERA until then.
So if General Manager Ned Colletti wants to upgrade his rotation, trying to find a legitimate No. 2 may have to come via trade. That’s a Herculean task, too. Olney tweeted Monday that the Dodgers were open to the idea of trading Andre Ethier. That would be the Ethier they just signed to a five-year, $85-million extension.
Not many teams are interested in taking on an extra $85 million, but a package of Ethier and, say, Harang, would give the Dodgers plenty to work with.
The Dodgers’ current rotation is a curious thing. At a glance it could appear an abundance of arms. Yet look slightly askew and it could prove a real challenge.
Lots of questions with uncertain answers, and a surprising amount of possibilities.
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