This week, the Los Angeles Dodgers revealed a February 9th report date for the team’s pitchers and catchers ahead of Spring Training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona. After orchestrating the league’s most polarizing offseason, headlined by the signing of two-time American League MVP Shohei Ohtani, the L.A. club will have some work to do to ensure its players familiarize themselves with each other and their new game plan.
The team has made some significant changes to their starting pitching rotation this winter, a direct response to last October’s disastrous performance against the Arizona Diamondbacks in which the Dodgers’ starting pitchers combined to allow 13 runs over four and two-thirds innings pitched. As a result, the 100-win Dodgers were swept in three games by the 84-win Diamondbacks, a historic meltdown punctuated by game three starter Lance Lynn surrendering four consecutive solo home runs in the third inning of the series-deciding game.
After a defeat as embarrassing as the 2023 NLDS, offseason changes were the obvious next step. With several of the team’s larger salaries coming off the books this winter, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman sensed a need for his team to make a splash in the free agent market. Friedman and the Dodgers came away from the marketplace successful, inking massive, record-breaking contracts with reigning AL MVP Shohei Ohtani and three-time NPB Triple Crown Award winner Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Although Ohtani will be unavailable as a pitcher during the 2024 season as he recovers from reparative UCL surgery, Yamamoto is expected to make an immediate impact as an MLB starter.
Alongside the team’s free agency ventures, the Dodgers completed a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in December to acquire the right-handed Tyler Glasnow, who soon after agreed to a five-year contract extension with Los Angeles. Despite limited innings in recent seasons, stemming from a 2021 injury that required Tommy John surgery, Glasnow has been a very effective strikeout pitcher when active. The California native tossed 120 innings last season, a bode of confidence for Glasnow and the organization that he may be turning a corner regarding his injury concerns.
Notably, the Dodgers have not reached an agreement with their long-time ace and current free agent, Clayton Kershaw. The 35-year-old left-hander turned in yet another productive season in 2023, posting a 2.46 ERA over 131.2 innings pitched en route to his 10th career All-Star selection. Unfortunately, Kershaw’s campaign yet again took a nasty turn in October as the Diamondbacks notched six runs against him in the first inning of NLDS Game One, an inning Kershaw was unable to finish. The team would later reveal Kershaw was pitching through a shoulder injury that would require offseason surgery. Although the procedure is expected to keep the southpaw sidelined until at least summertime, Friedman has made it clear the team would be open to retaining the 16-year veteran.
With the additions of Yamamoto and Glasnow to the 2024 starting rotation, the Dodgers will have a decision to make in terms of how the team will structure its starting rotation and who will take the mound on Opening Day in Seoul, South Korea, against the San Diego Padres. Traditionally, starting rotations in NPB are comprised of six pitchers, unlike MLB, where teams often rotate five starters. In order to ease Yamamoto’s transition on and off the field from Japan to the United States, using a six-man rotation is worth considering for the Dodgers in 2024.
A six-man rotation for Los Angeles could look something like this:
- Yoshinobu Yamamoto (RHP)
- Tyler Glasnow (RHP)
- Walker Buehler (RHP)
- Bobby Miller (RHP)
- Emmet Sheehan (RHP)
- Ryan Yarbrough (LHP)
Without Clayton Kershaw in the mix, Walker Buehler reigns as the rotation’s most recurrent name in Los Angeles. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2022, Buehler is set to return for the beginning of the 2024 season. In his last full season in 2021, the righty started a league-best 33 games and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. Other former Dodgers prospects expected to earn a spot in the starting rotation this season are second-year pitchers Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan.
Besides the vacancy left by Kershaw’s free agency, the Dodgers’ hunt for starting pitching help is due in part to the uncertain recovery timetables of Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May. Gonsolin underwent Tommy John surgery in September and is expected to return no earlier than late 2024. As for May, after making just nine starts last season, the 26-year-old flamethrower underwent elbow surgery and has worked his way back to begin throwing last week, according to a video posted by May:
FanGraphs’ RosterResource anticipates Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter come March when the team will travel to South Korea to face the San Diego Padres in the league’s first games of the 2024 regular season. Due to the time zone difference, first pitch for what will likely be Yamamoto’s MLB debut on March 20th will reportedly be slated for 6:05 AM ET.
UPDATE: Monday night, the Dodgers addressed a glaring issue in the team’s rotational depth with the signing of James Paxton according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic. The 10-year MLB veteran provides a left-handed pitching option for manager Dave Roberts, something the team previously lacked. Paxton seemingly would slot in as the team’s fifth starter in a traditional rotation.