Dodgers spring training 2013: Extra starting pitchers making for difficult decisions

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

The Dodgers already had a full staff when they signed Zack Greinke. What do they do now?

The Winchester Mystery House is a tourist attraction in San Jose, and the short story is that the owner was the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, and she was convinced that the ghosts of people killed by Winchester rifles were going to seek revenge. The only way to ward them off was with the sounds of hammers and construction. The result was a strange, strange house, with staircases that went nowhere, and doors randomly placed where you wouldn't expect them.

The Dodgers aren't a perfect analogy. Zack Greinke is the equivalent of a really, really nice home theater in the analogy, and the franchise's crimes are more vast and far-reaching than simple murder. But their rotation is something close to the Winchester Mystery House. It's impressive, expensive, functional, and outstanding in places, but there are staircases in the bathtub, so to speak. The Los Angeles Dodgers have eight viable starting pitchers. If you assume that Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Josh Beckett have guaranteed spots, that leaves the following scrum:

Chad Billingsley (in this group only because of elbow concerns)
Hyun-Jin Ryu
Aaron Harang
Chris Capuano
Ted Lilly

Considering the Dodgers paid over $60 million for Ryu, when posting fee and salary are taken into account, they're expecting him to start, and start for a long time. And if Billingsley is healthy and able, he's starting. Suddenly, poof, Harang, Capuano, and Lilly make up the world's most expensive and overqualified bullpen Cerberus.

Wouldn't it make sense to swap one or two of them for pitchers with experience in short relief? It would, except the Dodgers have a full boat there, too. Matt Guerrier isn't an ideal setup man, but as the fourth right-hander in the bullpen, he's a good indication of bullpen depth.

Okay, so how about a trade for a third baseman? Luis Cruz probably earned a shot at the job, but only if there isn't a better alternative. If the Dodgers could turn a starter or two into a third baseman, they would go a long way toward improving the team. Except look at the Diamondbacks if you want to figure out the current supply-and-demand for third basemen. They had to give up a former franchise cornerstone for a good one. And if there are only mediocre ones left on the market, why bother?

The Dodgers could keep the pitchers, then. For depth. The Braves started last season with eight starting-pitcher candidates, and they ended up taking a gamble on Ben Sheets. The Rays started last season with five starting pitchers out of the rotation who could have all started for a decent team, and even though they got 31 starts or more from four different pitchers, they still wound up leaning on a couple of the backups.

So if Lillaranguano can't be split apart and exchanged for relievers or a third baseman, maybe they can be kept as depth. Except the Rays could send pitchers like Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to Triple-A when they needed to. It's unlikely that Harang, Capuano, or Lilly would agree to that. That means they would need to be on the active roster, and they would be competing against these pitchers for a spot in the bullpen:

Brandon League
Kenley Jansen
Ronald Belisario
J.P. Howell (the only lefty in middle relief)
Matt Guerrier
Javy Guerra

That leaves one spot for three pitchers. Who do you kick out? Guerrier is almost fungible, but do you assume that Harang's transition to short relief would make him better than Guerrier? The Dodgers just signed Howell for almost $3 million, so if you're thinking he's going to compete with Lilly or Capuano for a lefty-specialist job, that's probably not right.

There will be a long relief spot that goes to either Lilly or Capuano, and Harang's role is contingent upon Chad Billingsley's health, which is in the best shape of its life.

It's a mess. But a good mess, I suppose. And the Winchester analogy probably isn't apt at all, because all of these guys are still functional. They could all help a team. It's more like the Dodgers have three extra refrigerators in their garage, just sitting there. Wait, no, that doesn't explain the sense of urgency to figure this out before the 25-man roster is set. Okay, okay, it's more like the Dodgers have a fleet of well-maintained cars, but they're all made of chocolate and sitting in the sun, and they can't drive them all and … wait, no, that's horrible.

It's like the Dodgers have 15 pitchers for a 12-man pitching staff, and hardly any of them are candidates for the minor leagues. Yeah, it's almost exactly like that. A trade would be tricky unless they're willing to accept B or C prospects. At this point, though, that might be the best value they can get. Whatever they do, it will be fascinating.

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