Hyun-Jin Ryu’s Surgery Makes Acquiring a Front-Line Arm Inevitable for Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers took another big hit to their rotation Wednesday with the news that lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had been out all season with a lingering shoulder injury, is headed for what is likely to be season-ending surgery, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times.

Because Ryu hit the disabled list with the same problem last year and then lost almost all of spring training this season, too, this outcome appeared all but inevitable, especially after he had a recent setback while rehabbing.

But just because it might have been expected doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt the Dodgers, who already are without $48 million free-agent acquisition Brandon McCarthy after he underwent Tommy John surgery.

Without their Nos. 3 and 4 starters, the NL West-leading Dodgers (24-14 entering Wednesday games) have practically everything riding on co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Fortunately, that duo is arguably the best in baseball.

After them, Band-Aids and string are more or less holding together LA’s five-man, what with injury-prone Brett Anderson—who actually might be made up of Band-Aids and string at this point—as well as unknowns Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias in the final three spots.

Among the club’s other internal options? Brandon Beachy, who is recovering from his second TJ surgery himself, and inexperienced youngsters like Joe Wieland and Zach Lee.

And in case you’re wondering about the chance that 18-year-old lefty phenom Julio Urias could make a late-season debut, that’s unlikely after he’s due to have surgery on his eye at the end of May, a cosmetic procedure that will keep him out for about a month, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

The bottom line is that the Dodgers, as good as they have been so far, can only wait so long before looking outside the organization for pitching help. That means a trade—or two.

Arms like Bolsinger (2-0, 1.04 ERA) and Frias (3-1, 2.55 ERA) have looked capable enough so far, but a team that has designs on a third consecutive division title can’t be counting on them for the long haul.

If LA can coax another six weeks or so out of this current compilation of arms, that’s probably the best-case scenario before reality starts setting in, followed soon thereafter by concerns over the possibility that Anderson will get hurt (again), or that opponents will eventually expose Bolsinger or Frias over the second half.

And that’s well before the postseason starts, should the Dodgers survive and make it to October.

This is going to be quite a test for Los Angeles’ new front office, headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi. Those two decision-makers know what they’re doing, as evidenced this season by their successful remaking of the Dodgers’ middle infield, outfield and bullpen.

But injuries are the ultimate equalizer, even for a franchise with a record-setting $270 million payroll.

So where might Friedman and Zaidi go from here? Well, they still have options. For one, they could consider trading an infielder like Alex Guerrero for a pitcher, especially now that fellow Cuban signee Hector Olivera is officially in tow and working toward the majors, as Mark Saxon of ESPN.com writes:

But none of those options [Bolsinger, Frias or Beachy] are particularly bankable. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman’s preference is to work in the shadows, but he is making little effort to conceal the team’s approach to this July’s trade season: The Dodgers will turn over every leaf for a starting pitcher.

“From where we sit right now, if we can add an arm, that would certainly be helpful,” Friedman said.

The Dodgers also have quite a few highly coveted prospects who could come into play. While it’s unlikely they would move untouchables like shortstop Corey Seager or Urias, there are plenty of intriguing upstart youngsters on the farm, from right-handers Jose De Leon and Chris Anderson to catcher Julian Leon to outfielder Scott Schebler, among others. 

What’s more, there should be no shortage of quality starters on the trade market in the coming weeks, including potentially Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake and Kyle Lohse, all of whom are free agents at season’s end. Meanwhile, the pitching-rich New York Mets would love to pawn off one of Jonathon Niese or Dillon Gee for some offense, so maybe that’s a match.

And of course, there’s Cole Hamels, if LA gets desperate and wants to meet the Philadelphia Phillies‘ sky-high asking price of “at least two ‘impact players,'” per Arthur Weinstein of Sporting News.

The difference between losing McCarthy and losing Ryu is that the latter was still a possibility to pitch in 2015 when the former went down for the year. But carrying on without both means not only is there a greater need for a starter, but also for a higher-caliber one too.

That’s where the Dodgers are going to have to figure something out, and soon, because this is a team with World Series-or-bust expectations. And right now, the state of the rotation, in the wake of another season-ending surgery for a key starter, is much closer to bust.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Wednesday, May 20, and courtesy of MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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