The Dodgers spent over $200 million this weekend to upgrade their rotation. Was it enough to give them the top five in the league?
We've all been there. You're having a drink with friends, and it goes down smoothly, so you have another one. You planned to nurse it, but, welp. Then someone brings over a round of shots, and you don't want to be rude. The next thing you know, you're waking up in your bathtub, and there are 739 starting pitchers in your house. How did they get there? What are you going to do with them? Better start making some calls.
The Dodgers said they were going to go crazy. We all believed them! Then they got all cockeyed and said they would show us, they would show us good. And we were like, no, we believe you. But here we are. Over the weekend, the Dodgers spent over $208 million on two starting pitchers for a rotation that already had six starting pitchers. They have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and the most heralded Korean pitcher since Chan Ho Park.
But do the Dodgers have the best rotation in the National League now? If you want to save some time, I'll alert you that I'm probably going to weasel out because I have no idea how good Ryu Hyun-Jin is going to be. I can guess, based on the video evidence:
But I'd like to see what happens when major-league hitters take most of those pitches. Or, maybe, major-league hitters don't take them. Maybe Hyun-Jin is just that good. Dunno. The thing I do know is that Greinke is good, Kershaw is gooder, and the Dodgers have one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. Do they have competition for the best rotation in the NL?
The best way to figure that out is to see what team held that title before the weekend.
We can eliminate some of the competition right off the bat. The Rockies' website lists "Jeff Francis or something … hell, I don't know" as their #1 starter on the organizational depth chart. The Padres' best young pitchers are injured, and the Marlins are a Ricky Nolasco trade away from starting Henderson Alvarez on Opening Day. The Cubs.
There's a middle tier filled with teams that aren't quite there. The Mets and Cardinals would need a lot from Johan Santana and Chris Carpenter, respectively. Assuming Kris Medlen isn't going to be '68 Bob Gibson again, Tim Hudson isn't exactly the dominating top-rotation piece that qualifies a team for this kind of title. The Brewers and Pirates have staffs with the potential for decent-to-good things, but nothing worth going out of your way to laud just yet.
That leaves five teams. The Diamondbacks have ridiculous depth, which they could trade for a shortstop like Asdrubal Cabrera. But the Brandon McCarthy signing pushed Wade Miley to the #3 spot and Trevor Cahill to #4. That's a pretty good indication of how deep they are. But unless Ian Kennedy recaptures the 2011 magic, or Trevor Bauer develops into a star, they don't have that ace-type that puts the fear of Pedro into the other team. They're cut.
The Giants would be serious contenders with the old Tim Lincecum, who very well might show up in 2013. But the current version is something of an enigma. Barry Zito might be a postseason hero all of a sudden, but if you buy Baseball Reference's WAR, he's been negative wins for three out of the last five seasons. Until they know what they're getting from Lincecum, they're probably not the best staff in the NL.
If Roy Halladay's season was a blip, and if he's once again one of the best starters in baseball, the Phillies could start Omar Daal and Cliff Politte and be contenders for the top rotation. As is, he's a question mark, and so are Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd. Can't be the Phillies
No, before the weekend, the race for the best rotation in the NL was between the Reds and the Nationals. And both of those staffs have something in common with the Dodgers, Giants, and Phillies: They each have a Schrödinger's pitcher in the rotation, an unknown who could vault them from also-rans to the top slot.
If Dan Haren's healthy and able, the Nationals have the best rotation in the NL. He's actually the fourth starter, which … huh. That's a deep rotation. Ross Detwiler doesn't have the sexy strikeout numbers, but he's a more-than-capable fifth starter. And then there's Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Zimmermann at the top. That's pretty nifty.
If Aroldis Chapman makes a seamless transition to the rotation, the Reds probably have the best rotation in the NL. They wouldn't have to rely on repeat seasons from Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey -- both of them could do their thing at the bottom of the rotation. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Chapman would be comparable to the Nationals' troika at the top. I can't decide if I'd prefer Haren/Detwiler to Arroyo/Bailey, but I lean toward the former.
Too many questions for the Reds, though. The best rotation in the NL before the Dodgers started pooping ingots over the weekend? Definitely the Nationals.
Can the Dodgers compete with them after their spending spree?
To get there, you would have to assume that Hyun-Jin is the equivalent to Jordan Zimmermann, which he certainly could be. But I'd take a Zimmermann in the hand over two international free-agents in the bush. And even though the Dodgers have a billionty options for their fourth and fifth spots, they all come with questions at least as pressing as the ones the Nats have with Haren and Detwiler. Chad Billingsley's elbow is balky, as is Josh Beckett's everything. Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano have standard mid-rotation-lefty potential, and they're fine options for the back of a rotation. But neither of them has the upside that Haren does.
So I'll still go with the Nationals. But this was just a thought exercise. The Dodgers, in one weekend, put themselves in the discussion. The Royals had to trade an organizational pillar to upgrade their rotation; the Dodgers ordered out, and they're better for it. The Nationals might look better in December, but that's not exactly the point of this roster-building stuff.
Because I like arguments on the Internet, my rankings for the whole N.L.:
Really, it's more like three tiers, with #10 closer to #5 than #15 is to #10. And those top six or seven -- heck, all the way down to the Mets -- could end the 2013 season as the real answer, depending on the health of a once-great veteran or the development of a top prospect.
Until then, it's the Nationals, then everyone else, even if the Dodgers did the best they could to put themselves in position.