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The Dodgers don't need another closer

Over the past week, the Dodgers have reportedly tried to trade for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Either move will require giving up several significant players. Do they need either pitcher?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It has been an eventful week for the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Monday morning it was announced that the team had agreed to trade for Cincinnati Reds super-closer Aroldis Chapman. To get Chapman, the Dodgers were supposedly sending the Reds three or four prospects, although not either of the gems of the Dodgers' system, Corey Seager and Julio Urias. The trade was apparently held up because of Chapman's role in a domestic dispute in October, and talks eventually dissolved. Yesterday morning, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweeted that the Dodgers are now in pursuit of Yankees closer Andrew Miller or other top-level relief pitchers, indicating that while the Dodgers have moved on from Chapman, they are still searching for an elite reliever.

Undoubtedly, both Chapman and Miller qualify as elite relievers. Among relievers, over the past two seasons, Miller's fielding independent pitching (FIP) of 1.83 ranks fourth in all of baseball, and Chapman's 1.47 ranks first. These guys are good at doing their job. Chapman's 42.9% career strikeout rate is the best in baseball history, ahead of new Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel (41.2%) and current Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who ranks third with a mark of 39.4%.

These numbers make it clear that from a production standpoint, both players would certainly make Los Angeles a better team, at least in the short term - but by how much? The Dodgers' relievers collectively accrued an ERA of 3.91 last season, ranking 19th in the majors. However, their fielding independent numbers were much better. The following table provides relevant information for the 2015 Dodgers' bullpen, and where the group ranked in MLB in each category:












As you can see, the Dodgers already have a strong relief group. The perception that they have a bad bullpen is likely a hold over from the 2014 NLDS, when Dodgers relievers blew Games 1 and 3 against St. Louis, and Don Mattingly's lack of confidence in his bullpen led him to leave Clayton Kershaw in Game 4 longer than he probably should have. Regardless of why the bad bullpen perception exists, the 2015 numbers demonstrate that it is not really the case. In reality, Los Angeles had a decent bullpen last season that could have been expected to improve enough internally that no major moves were necessary.

The success of the Kansas City Royals, who won the World Series at least partially because of their bullpen laden with elite relievers, may have influenced the Dodgers' decision to trade for another closer. Having two top-level relievers would allow the Dodgers the flexibility to pull starters earlier in games and trust their bullpen to shut down opposing lineups. Chapman and Miller, both lefthanders, could serve as deadly complements to Jansen in the late innings if new manager Dave Roberts is adept at playing the matchups.

There is, however, a case to be made that the Dodgers can have a similarly lethal bullpen without acquiring anyone. The following table displays the 2015 FIPs and strikeouts per nine innings of each of the Dodgers' three best non-Jansen relievers:


2015 FIP

2015 K/9

Pedro Baez



Yimi Garcia



Chris Hatcher



Los Angeles already has a stable of cost-controlled relievers with high-strikeout abilities. Baez, in particular, looks like he could develop into a late-inning stalwart, as a 27 year-old with very little wear on his arm.

All three pitchers, along with Jansen, are right-handers, so a lefthander makes sense from a platoon-advantage standpoint. However, the Dodgers are also bringing back effective LOOGY J.P. Howell, and could sign a cheaper left-handed reliever like Antonio Bastardo (3.33 FIP in 2015) instead of trading prospects for a more well-known commodity.

The price for a closer, it appears, would be quite high. Craig Kimbrel fetched four prospects from Boston, with two of them (Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra) considered some of the prospect Red Sox's best minor leaguers. Ken Giles, traded from Philadelphia to Houston, cost the Astros promising young arm Vincent Velasquez, well-regarded prospect Thomas Eshelman, and two other players.

Chapman, with only a year left on his deal, likely would have come cheaper than Miller, who has three years and a relatively cheap price of $27 million remaining on his contract. But, John Heyman reports that the Yankees are seeking a quality starting pitcher (Urias, perhaps?) in return for Miller, which is a steep cost for a 30 year-old reliever who has only posted two seasons with a BB/9 below 4.4.

Even if Los Angeles is intent upon making a short-term upgrade, there are other areas that could use the improvement instead of the bullpen. The Dodgers signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year contract, but still project to field a rotation with multiple question marks. Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu are both coming back from serious injury, and Brett Anderson has only topped 115 innings in a season twice in his career. It is unlikely that the team would be content with giving rotation spots to one or both of Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger should Ryu, McCarthy or Anderson falter.

Realistically, the Dodgers can still afford upgrades elsewhere if need be, and Chapman/Miller would make them better in the coming season, a season in which they plan to contend. However, their window is not closing particularly quickly. With Urias and Seager poised to join the major league roster, this is a team that could be good for many years to come by holding onto those players. For this reason, trading top prospects for a rental at a position where internal upgrades could be been made seems illogical. With all that said, if Los Angeles does trade for Miller and wins the World Series in 2016, all criticism of the trade will likely be forgotten in a cascade of champagne and flags.

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Tom O'Donnell is a Staff Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is also a junior at Colby College. You can follow him on Twitter @Od_tommy.