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Dodgers sign Scott Kazmir, double down on risk

L.A. has finally added another starter, but is Kazmir the starter they needed?

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Greinke was going to rejoin the Dodgers, until he didn't. Hisashi Iwakuma was a Dodger, until he wasn't. Johnny Cueto and David Price are not Dodgers. Neither are Mike Leake, John Lackey or Jordan Zimmermann. The Dodgers made one run at a pitcher in the post-Greinke world, and he's now a Seattle Mariner.

Until now, that is. The Dodgers have signed Scott Kazmir to a three-year, $48 million deal. The contract includes an opt-out after the first year of the deal as well. Kazmir will presumably be Clayton Kershaw's caddy in the second spot of the rotation, creating the possibility of an all-left-handed rotation filled out by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood.

It also creates a ridiculous amount of risk for Los Angeles. Ryu is already coming off shoulder surgery, and Anderson pitched more than 100 innings for the first time since 2010. Kazmir has his own long list of injuries on his ledger, and given that fact it's not surprising that he's faded down the stretch for two years in a row now.

The Dodgers don't exactly lack for depth to back up those arms, but even the depth is sub-optimal. Their best option is Brandon McCarthy, who's coming off Tommy John surgery and probably won't be back until midseason. Beyond him there's Mike Bolsinger, Zach Lee, and a few ascendant prospects including Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas. There's always an outside chance that Julio Urias could surface too, but he shouldn't be counted on as a sure thing for 2016.

Of course, when he's on, Kazmir is good. He's consistently struck out just under eight batters per nine innings since returning to the big leagues in 2013 after a stint in indy ball. He's been worth 6.3 WARP in that time, and has been solid if nothing else. Kazmir won't knock your socks off, but he goes through streaks of being very good if nothing else.

For the Dodgers' purposes, that's fine. They needed another pitcher with a pulse, if nothing else, and there's still a chance that they make a trade for another pitcher (Jose Fernandez?). They almost have to if they want to compete with the Giants and Diamondbacks for the division title. The health of the rotation over the course of the 2016 season seems suspect at best, and with the Dodger offense being nothing to write home about, they'll need as many quality innings as they can get.

The structure of the deal is also quite fascinating. Opt-out clauses are in vogue this winter, and Kazmir's could place him squarely in the middle of an underwhelming free agent class. The big pitcher on the market next winter is Stephen Strasburg. James Shields, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Moore could also be in play depending on whether or not their respective options are picked up (or if Shields opts out of his deal), but regardless, it's not exactly a bountiful bunch. Kazmir could be a very attractive option if he puts together a good year in Los Angeles, and could set himself up for more money from another employer.

Yet we've never seen a pitcher of Kazmir's quality receive an opt-out clause so early in his contract. It's more of a risk than the usual opt-out due to Kazmir's injury history, too. But the Dodgers desperately need a pitcher. The Dodgers could also grab another draft pick after the season, but that's not something that they would be upfront about.

Unless they were, of course. The deeper we dig in to this deal, the more it feels like one born of a combination of desperation and thrifty business weighted by exceptional risk, both from the perspective of rotation construction and injury risk for future years. It's not 100 percent fair to judge the Dodgers' roster until Opening Day, when it's complete. However, as currently constructed, the Dodgers' pitching staff sits on the edge of a cliff, one bad back or shoulder re-aggravation away from once again diving back into the depths of, well, depth. How many years in a row now has it been that the Dodgers have cycled through starter after starter? It would be the least surprising thing in the game if that were to happen again.

There are other reasons to get up in arms about the current construction of the rotation, but that's an article for another time.


Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.