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The Dodgers still have baseball's most fascinating rotation, just in a much different way

The Dodgers are still spending, they're just doing it in a markedly different fashion than we're used to.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, unsafe amounts of Michael Bay leaked into the Los Angeles groundwater, and the Dodgers showed the most noticeable effects. They had new owners who wanted to make a statement, and they couldn't just make their statement by raising their collective voices. They needed explosions. Lots of them. Pyrotechnics and CGI. Trading for a half-billion worth of contracts just to get Adrian Gonzalez was supposed to hook you like the opening to Armageddon.

In 2015, the Dodgers are run by an experienced team that has successfully operated managed accounts through multiple market cycles, including periods of severe market turbulence. They're spreading risk around, diversifying, being aggressive and pragmatic at the same time. They're still taking risks, mind you, but the risks have more to do with wins and losses and less to do with dollars and cents.

And even though they're more hedge funds than explosions right now, they're still the most fascinating team in baseball, especially with their rotation. What in the heck are they doing?

We've already established that they're not a team that will pay more to keep a player, just to keep up appearances. They're a normal team, now. A normal rich team, that is, but they no longer exist in an orbit outside of the other 29 teams. Instead of throwing ingots at one or two established All-Stars, then doing it again if it doesn't work -- the strategy pioneered by the New York Yankees over the years -- they're using their money in a much different way.

Their rotation, in reverse order of risk:

1. Clayton Kershaw

Still a titan, still a demigod. Is he already a Hall of Famer? He hasn't been in the league for 10 years yet, so technically no, but I'd vote for him in theory. He'll probably pass Sandy Koufax in career WAR by the end of the year, though, and he's almost certainly the most reliable pitcher in baseball.

2. Scott Kazmir

I would like to point out that Kazmir, former teammate of Roger Clemens on the Sugar Land Skeeters because he couldn't get a major-league gig, former player on the cover of the where-are-they-now book of the 00s, former young pitcher who fell into the same death mine that most young pitchers fall into, is one of the least risky pitchers the Dodgers have.

That's not to say he's the same risk we would have pegged him for three years ago. He's been an innings machine, reliable and steady in his most recent seasons. But if we assume that all pitchers are inherently risky, there has to be some sort of multiplier for a pitcher who has already crossed over to the other side and been resuscitated.

3. Brett Anderson

Anderson hit free agency relatively early because he came up as a 21-year-old and found immediate success. Those sorts of pitchers are usually the ones who break free agency, hitting the market about a year older than some of the pitchers on Baseball America's top-100 prospect list. Except Anderson had to sign a one-year deal specifically because his injury concerns made him so risky.

He accepted the qualifying offer because those risks are still present, and it was going to be hard to convince another team to absorb those risks, pay for the privilege, and give up a draft pick. The Dodgers are just happy to have the pitcher who helped them last year, even if he doesn't improve a lick.

4. Kenta Maeda

He's just about the least risky pitcher on here when it comes to risk-vs.-reward, considering the Dodgers only have to pay him more than J.A. Happ if he pitches better a fourth starter. It's a ludicrous, team-friendly contract.

But we're talking about risk in a wins-and-losses capacity. So consider this: Maeda made his medical records available to all 30 teams in a market where Mike Leake got $80 million. Every team but the Dodgers ran away screaming, and he got a contract that looks more like an anachronism than a modern deal for a starting pitcher.

I didn't see the medicals, and I wouldn't know what I'd do with them if I had seen them. But you don't need to understand zoology to know why a herd of impala might freak out and scatter. Which is to say, there's probably a lion in Maeda's elbow. A chompy, chompy lion. A literal, tiny, chompy lion. So it's a great contract, but you have to assume there's a lot of on-field risk.

5. Alex Wood

His velocity is dipping, and the team's perception of him has changed from "one of the better young starters in the league" to "someone who probably shouldn't be in the postseason rotation, and maybe a long man next year." If the Dodgers used him throughout the end of 2015 season and assumed he was going to help anchor the 2016 rotation, he would be a solid No. 2, right behind Kershaw.

But the Dodgers' tentativeness is my tentativeness.

6. Hyun-jin Ryu

He hasn't pitched since the 2014 NLDS because of shoulder problems. So yes, he's something of a risk.

7. Julio Urias

His talent is comparable only to Kershaw's, and by the end of the season, we might laugh at the thought of him being a risk.

He's still just 19, though. A teenager, an actual teenager. When Kershaw was 20, he was a precocious league-average starter, just like Felix Hernandez. So while there's a chance that Urias is an immediate smash, he would have to do better than Kershaw or Hernandez at the same age. Hoping for that is fine. Expecting it seems like a good way to be disappointed, at least at first.

The last 19-year-old pitcher the Dodgers brought up because his arm was just too hot for the minors? Edwin Jackson. Young pitchers shouldn't do well in these kinds of power rankings.

8. Jose De Leon

Young pitchers shouldn't do well in these kinds of power rankings.

9. Mike Bolsinger

Came out of nowhere last year, and the Dodgers aren't counting on him to be more than a sixth or seventh option for a reason. He pitched past the fifth inning just twice in his final 10 starts.

10. Brandon Beachy

He was so, so good just recently, but he's coming off his second Tommy John surgery.

11. Brandon McCarthy

He'll start the season on the DL following Tommy John surgery, so even though he's supremely talented, it's not exactly controversial to suggest that there's more risk here than there might be with the other pitchers.

There's also plenty of reward, though. And that's the point. Of the 11 starting pitchers up there, the Dodgers need five of them to work out. If you assume that fifth starters are usually a mess for every team, maybe they'll just need four. If Kershaw is as good as he has been, maybe they'll need two of the other pitchers up there to pitch at a relatively high level to compete in the NL West. Heck, it doesn't even have to be the same two all year. They can lean over the ropes and tag each other in, all season long.


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And by July 31, the Dodgers will still have all of their prospects and a much better idea of what their rotation-o'-risk can give them. Then they can finally make that big deal we've been expecting from them for years. Not the dippy Mat Latos-kind of deal, but the deadline whopper that the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics have made in recent years to acquire an ace-of-aces.

Unless they don't need to. Which they might not to, if even half of those pitchers up there work out.

It's not a depth chart filled with special effects and shiny things. There might be explosions, but they'll have more to do with elbows than missiles. And it isn't a rotation without substantial risks, even after considering the safety in numbers.

But it's a fascinating way for the Dodgers to use their money, and make no mistake, it's not like the Tampa Bay Rays could accumulate the same options for that much money. The Dodgers are still financial bullies, but they're just doing it in a much different way. Along the way, they've become one of the most fascinating teams in baseball.

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