Fresh off an NLDS victory over the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers face off against the Chicago Cubs in game one of the NLCS tonight. The Dodgers can be considered the Yankees of the National League, due to their exorbitant payroll. Yet one thing they didn’t spend very much on is their bullpen, which had a combined regular season ERA of 3.35, the lowest in Major League Baseball.
They do feature a big name closer in Kenley Jansen, who is set to be a free agent after this season. In his final year of arbitration, Jansen has earned $10.6 million. He has certainly earned his incoming payday, with 47 saves and a 1.83 ERA in 71 appearances. He also had a microscopic WHIP and FIP of 0.67 and 1.44 respectively, suggesting that he was every bit as dominant as his ERA suggests, if not more.
Beyond their superstar closer, the Dodgers have been very frugal in putting together their bullpen. They turned to hard-throwing righty Pedro Baez for 73 appearances, during which time he compiled a 3.04 ERA. Lefty specialist Adam Liberatore had a 3.38 ERA in 42.2 innings, while rookie Grant Dayton had a 2.05 ERA in 25 appearances, with over 13 K/9. Also, former Phillies starter Joe Blanton has resurfaced with the Dodgers, with a 2.48 ERA over 80 innings.
Despite their loaded farm system and seemingly infinite financial resources, the Dodgers have not chosen to acquire a big name reliever to back Jansen up. They had a deal in place for Aroldis Chapman before the Yankees did, but that trade quickly fell apart due to the controversy surrounding his domestic violence case. Even without Chapman, they have put together the most effective bullpen in baseball, often turning to pitchers who were unproven or considered to be past their primes.
If a team like the Dodgers has been reluctant to part with prospects to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees should also be cautious when looking to add relievers. It would be tough to justify trading Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Carlos Beltran in order to replenish the farm system, only to send the newly acquired prospects somewhere else for a high-profile relief pitcher.
Fortunately, the Yankees have shown that they are thinking along the same lines as the Dodgers, with the acquisitions of pitchers like Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren. After experiencing somewhat of a fall from grace in 2016, Clippard and Warren were solid out of the bullpen after the trade deadline, helping keep the Yankees in the playoff hunt until September.
This offseason, Jansen will join Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon as closers who will be looking to cash in on the free agent market. According to MLB Insider Jon Heyman, the Yankees are said to be targeting Jansen and Chapman, and are also considering trading for bullpen help. Adding a closer via free agency seems like a solid idea, but for now they should stick to their model of buying low on lower-profile relievers. At some point in the future, it might make sense to break up the Baby Bombers. However, that time is not right now.