For 10 years, the Dodgers had Kenley Jansen as their closer. Whatever other questions the bullpen had, we always went into spring training knowing Kenley would get the ninth inning (for better or for worse). Last year, after Jansen left in free agency, Los Angeles made a spring trade to bring in Craig Kimbrel, an experiment that turned out not to work so well.
In 2023, LA heads into spring training without a closer. Pitching coach Mark Prior talked with a local radio host recently about the team’s approach to the closer role.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we don’t have a defined closer, and that’s always a hot topic, but we’re gonna go into it, we feel really good with our guys in our bullpen. We’ll just kind of see how the spring plays out. Whether it’s somebody like Evan Phillips, or Yency [Almonte], or [Alex] Vesia, or Ferg [Caleb Ferguson], I think we all have guys that we trust with their makeup to handle that.
“Granted, the ninth inning is completely different, it’s a way different ballgame than sometimes in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. No matter who you’re facing, it’s just, closing a game out is a unique role in this game. But, you know, we’ll see how it plays out, but we feel really good about all those guys’ makeup and eventually things flush themselves out and work themselves out on their own, and I think we’ll be in a pretty good spot.
“But I think, collectively, our bullpen should be in pretty good shape, and we have a lot of talent down there, and I think we have a lot of depth. A lot of the guys that we signed, you know, the Shelby Millers, guys like that who will come in and be part of this mix. I think that allows us to take our time and figure out what’s the best course of action for the organization as a whole.”
The internet being what it is, commenters immediately jumped on the names Prior didn’t mention, like Brusdar Graterol or Daniel Hudson. But it’s clear that Prior’s point is, “We have a lot of good relievers, so we’ll be fine.”
We don’t know exactly what the LA bullpen will look like on Opening Day. Assuming everyone is healthy, you’d think Almonte, Vesia, Phillips, Hudson, Graterol, Miller, and Ferguson would have seven of the eight bullpen roster spots locked up. That leaves one spot for Phil Bickford, Justin Bruihl, Victor Gonzalez, Andre Jackson, Michael Grove, Ryan Pepiot, and a handful of non-roster invitees to fight over. So Prior is right about the depth, and there’s a lot of talent at the top, too.
Will the Dodgers embrace the “no defined closer” approach all season long? Or will one of these guys end up grabbing the role? What do you think LA should do?
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