The Dodgers hold a $12MM club option with a $4MM buyout on right-hander Joe Kelly, but Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times reports that the team is planning to pay him the buyout rather than pick up the net $8MM option. Part of the reasoning, according to Castillo, is that the biceps strain which caused Kelly to be removed from the NLCS roster is significant enough that he won’t be ready for the start of the 2022 season.
If that indeed proves to be the case, it’ll be an obvious detriment to Kelly’s free-agent stock this offseason. The 33-year-old could’ve been in position to command another multi-year deal were he at full strength, and the Dodgers would have had to give some consideration to a net $8MM decision for next year. Kelly’s first season in L.A. (2019) didn’t go as smoothly as he or the team hoped, but he’s pitched to a 2.67 ERA with a 26.3% strikeout rate and a 9.8% walk rate over the past two seasons. He averaged 98.1 mph on his heater this year — his best mark since 2018 — and also notched a career-best 11.6% swinging-strike rate.
The possible departure of Kelly is just one layer of what looks like a large amount of turnover among the Los Angeles relief corps. The Dodgers also have each of Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson up for free agency this winter, and it’s unlikely that they’ll retain all of those pending free agents.
Depending on how strong an effort the Dodgers make to retain that group, the late-inning picture will look quite different for Dave Roberts & Co. Blake Treinen could step into the closer’s role for the first time since departing Oakland a few years back, while flamethrowing Brusdar Graterol would likely be in line for a higher-leverage role. The Dodgers will also hope to have former Yankees setup man Tommy Kahnle play a prominent role in 2022. He inked a two-year pact with Los Angeles last offseason, and the Dodgers knew at the time that he’d miss the 2021 season while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Turning back to Kelly, it remains to be seen just when he’ll be ready to go next season. If his outlook ultimately is strong enough that he can make it back to the mound relatively early in the season, he should still generate strong interest in free agency. Beyond the fact that he’s one of the hardest throwers on the free-agent market, Kelly has a lengthy track record of missing bats at a strong clip and limiting home runs at a far better level than the average reliever. Kelly has allowed just 0.63 HR/9 over the past five seasons; the league-average relief pitcher has yielded 1.20 HR/9 in that time.