With less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to monitor the free-agent market for relief help.
Last week, the club added a low-risk, high-reward option in former San Diego Padres reliever Brandon Morrow, who was inked to a Minor-League contract with an invitation to big league camp. Previously this offseason, Los Angeles also brought in the likes of Steve Geltz and Vidal Nuno in separate transactions, to complement the re-signing of Kenley Jansen to a five-year deal.
While the Dodgers were able to retain their star closer and improve the overall depth of the bullpen, there still isn’t a clear answer on who will help bridge the gap to the ninth inning.
At the moment, Pedro Baez and Grant Dayton figure to receive high-leverage opportunities, though the club will presumably attempt to add to that group.
Last season’s primary setup man, Joe Blanton, remains a free agent. The Dodgers have expressed interest in bringing him back for at least another season. More recently, the team was linked to a pair of free-agent left-handers in Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow, although a righty makes more sense to pursue, given the abundance of southpaws on the 40-man roster.
On Thursday, a new name surfaced in the Dodgers’ search for a reliever: longtime San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo. The Brawley, Calif., native reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with Los Angeles.
Romo, 34 years old in March, is coming off a somewhat disappointing season, largely due to injury.
While Romo posted a solid 2.64 ERA in 2016, he logged just 30.2 innings after missing the majority of the first half with a flexor strain, and saw his peripherals trend in the wrong direction.
Romo’s strikeouts per nine dropped from 11.1 in 2015 to 9.7 in 2016, while his walks per nine increased from 1.6 to 2.1 during the same span. Not surprisingly, Romo’s FIP also saw an increase from 1.91 to 3.80, while his home runs per nine spiked from 0.5 to 1.5.
More concerning is Romo’s dip in velocity that saw his average fastball diminish from 87.4 mph in 2015 to 85.9 mph in 2016. Each of Romo’s additional three pitches, including a slider that he utilized roughly 64 percent of the time, also saw a decline in speed.
On a brighter note, Romo was still tough on right-handed hitters, holding them to a .234/.272/.403 batting line over 81 plate appearances last season. For comparison, left-handed batters hit .242/.306/.485 against him in 36 trips to the plate.
Romo also enjoyed an excellent month of September to close out his 2016 campaign. He pitched to a 1.86 ERA and struck out 11 batters to just one walk in 9.2 innings.
Assuming Romo is now healthy and that his 2016 season was an outlier, it doesn’t hurt taking a flier on a once-elite reliever not too long ago.
From 2008-15, Romo ranked 10th in fWAR (8.9) among qualified relievers, with a 10.2 K/9 in 409 innings. Even in a challenging 2016 season, he still proved to be an efficient run preventer and struck out nearly 10 batters per nine while largely managing to limit walks.
Should Romo choose to sign with the Dodgers, he would finally get the chance to pitch for his favorite team growing up. He frequently attended games at Dodger Stadium as a child, so joining the organization would be a homecoming for the free agent.
In the meantime, Romo is staying fresh by pitching for Mexico in the Caribbean Series. He will soon represent the country in the World Baseball Classic, along with Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.