The Dodgers relief corps will feature (from left) J.P Howell, Brian Wilson… (Wally Skalij and Allen J.…)
PHOENIX — The Dodgers have three former All-Star closers and none of them is likely to start the season as the team's primary ninth-inning option.
That job belongs to Kenley Jansen.
As crowded as the Dodgers are in the outfield with Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp vying for three starting spots, they might be even more talented in the bullpen.
The Dodgers have so many experienced relief pitchers, they might not have a place on the major league roster for Paco Rodriguez, who posted a 2.32 earned-run average in 76 games as a rookie last season.
Fellow left-hander J.P. Howell was incredulous when told Rodriguez might not make the team.
"It's weird," Howell said, shaking his head. "It's so weird."
The Dodgers have six relievers with guaranteed contracts, and that virtually assures them a place on the roster: Jansen, Howell, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League and Jamey Wright.
They could have another if Josh Beckett remains healthy, wins a place in the rotation, and causes newcomer Paul Maholm to move to the bullpen. Because Rodriguez can be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers, he could become the odd man out.
Like most things Dodgers these days, the bullpen depth is a reflection of the team's wherewithal. The Dodgers have more than $30 million committed to their bullpen for the upcoming season. Jansen, who recently signed for $4.3 million, ranks fourth on the salary list.
By offering Wilson closer-caliber money, the Dodgers convinced him to set up for Jansen again. In his return from reconstructive elbow surgery last year, Wilson posted a 0.66 ERA in 18 games.
Wilson will be paid $10 million this year. His contract includes a player option for 2015 worth anywhere from $8.5 million to $10 million, depending on how many appearances he makes.
Wilson saved the deciding game of the 2010 World Series for the San Francisco Giants and he had offers to close elsewhere. But he said his role with the Dodgers wasn't an issue.
"Winning was the issue," he said.
Wilson made three All-Star teams with the Giants. Perez was an All-Star with the Cleveland Indians and League with the Seattle Mariners.
Perez and League will attempt to recapture past glory.
Perez was released at the end of last season by the Indians. He was eligible for salary arbitration, meaning that if the Indians had tendered him a contract, he would have received a raise from the $7.3 million he made last year. That wasn't the kind of money the Indians wanted to pay him, considering he had a 7.53 ERA after Aug. 1.
An early-season injury resulted in a change in his mechanics, Perez said, that led to a late-season slump.
Perez signed a one-year, $2.3-million contract with the Dodgers and views his opportunity as a fresh start on and off the field. He was arrested last year after marijuana was delivered to his residence, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was given probation.
League will be entering the second year of a three-year, $22.5-million deal. When the Dodgers signed him, they did so with the idea he would be their closer. But League posted a 5.30 ERA in 58 games and was replaced by Jansen. With his contract making him virtually untradable, the Dodgers have no choice but to hope League can turn back the clock.
Jansen could be on the verge of becoming an All-Star himself. In 75 games last season, he recorded 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA.
Manager Don Mattingly watched Jansen's confidence grow as the season progressed. Jansen agreed with that assessment, saying that closing out the National League division series against the Atlanta Braves made him feel as if he belonged with the ninth-inning pitchers he grew up admiring.
"That was an awesome feeling," Jansen said. "I look forward to doing it again."
Jansen credited a large part of his growth last season to Howell, who he said helped him develop his tactical acumen. Howell was a free agent over the winter, a source of anxiety for the usually laid-back Jansen.
"I wanted him back so badly," Jansen said. "He helped me a lot."
Howell, nearby, chimed in, joking: "Yeah, I taught him his cutter."
Howell was dependable in a variety of roles other than as Jansen's tutor. He had a 2.03 ERA in 67 games last season. He said he turned down a three-year offer from another team to take a two-year, $11.25-million contract with the Dodgers.
"It was worth it, man," Howell said. "When you get money, you get money. It's nice but it doesn't necessarily make you happy. Being here makes me extremely happy. I really wanted to play here again. I want to win a World Series. This is the best place to be for that."
Wright is expected to be the long man. The 39-year-old journeyman pitched for the Dodgers in 2012 but moved to the Tampa Bay Rays last year.
The number of veteran arms doesn't leave much, if any, room for young pitchers such as Rodriguez and right-hander Chris Withrow. Like Rodriguez, Withrow was a key contributor last season, posting a 2.60 ERA in 26 games. But, like Rodriguez, he can be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers.
Jose Dominguez, whose fastball was clocked as high as 103 mph last season, would probably make most other teams. With the Dodgers he's a longshot.
Javy Guerra saved 21 games for the Dodgers in 2011, yet faces even longer odds than Dominguez to make the team.
"This team can depend on this bullpen," Jansen said. "We can take pressure off [Clayton] Kershaw and [Zack] Greinke and all those guys."