One area in which the Los Angeles Dodgers are all but certain to address this offseason is the starting rotation. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill are both free agents, creating two voids that must be filled from either outside of the organization or internally.
The Dodgers have been connected to Gerrit Cole thus far and are believed to be one of his most likely suitors, along with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. L.A. is additionally not ruling out a potential reunion with Ryu, as both sides are believed to have mutual interest in getting a new deal done.
Should the Dodgers look to fill one of their spots in-house, one logical candidate is Kenta Maeda. The right-hander is returning to the starting rotation after finding success as a reliever to close out the 2019 season.
While Maeda has been open to pitching out of the bullpen in recent years, his preference is to remain a starter and there was an attempt to rework his contract, per Andy McCullough of The Athletic:
He has vocalized his frustration to Dodgers officials. After an unsuccessful attempt last winter to renegotiate his incentive-laden contract, which lasts another four years, Maeda remains steadfast in his desire to start.
Maeda’s willingness to pitch in either role has afforded the Dodgers plenty of flexibility when constructing postseason rosters. And while he has thrived as both a starter and reliever, his ultimate goal is to accumulate at least 30 starts in a season:
“Kenta wants to make 30 starts, 32 starts during the season,” Wolfe said. “He would prefer not to be constantly shuttled to the bullpen and back. He doesn’t like it.”
Wolfe cited the mental and physical strain of the adjustment for Maeda. “It’s been an ongoing discussion,” Wolfe said. “It’s not easy, for either side. But he came over here, after winning two Sawamura Awards being a starter, and he wants to start.”
Maeda made 37 appearances during the 2019 season — 26 of which were starts — compiling an overall 10-8 record with a 4.04 ERA, 3.95 FIP and 1.07 WHIP in 153.2 innings pitched.
Maeda enjoyed tremendous success as a starting pitcher in Japan and understandably wants to remain in that role. He made his annual transition to the bullpen at the start of September, yielding six runs over his final 10 appearances of the year. As a reliever, he posted a solid 3.24 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in 11 games during the 2019 season.
The 31-year-old carried that success into October, where he made four appearances against the Nationals in the National League Division Series. In 4.1 scoreless innings, he allowed just one hit while striking out seven batters.
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