The Dodgers are among numerous teams that have shown interest in free agent hurler Seth Lugo, reports Ari Alexander of KPRC 2 (on X). Alexander indicates that upwards of two-thirds of the league has checked in with Lugo’s camp, aligning with a recent report from FanSided’s Robert Murray that more than half the teams were involved.
Los Angeles is a suitable fit for every free agent starter. The Dodgers have less certainty in their rotation than they’ve had at any point in the past few seasons. Of the four pitchers who topped 100 innings, only Bobby Miller is going to open next year in the rotation. Julio Urías is unlikely to return after being arrested on domestic violence allegations. Tony Gonsolin will probably miss the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. Clayton Kershaw is a free agent and will be out of action into the 2024 campaign due to a postseason shoulder procedure.
Walker Buehler returns from his second Tommy John surgery to join Miller in the starting five. Los Angeles could bring in as many as three additional starters. Emmet Sheehan, Michael Grove and Gavin Stone struggled to varying degrees. Dustin May won’t be ready for the start of the season as he works back from July flexor surgery. Ryan Pepiot only managed 42 MLB innings in a swing capacity this year thanks to an oblique strain sustained at the tail end of Spring Training. Ryan Yarbrough worked mostly in long relief upon being acquired from the Royals in a midseason trade.
There’s a clear need for both high-end talent and bulk innings. Lugo could provide some combination of the two. The Padres gave the right-hander his first extended rotation opportunity in six years. He responded with a 3.57 ERA across 26 starts. Lugo missed a month in the first half with a calf strain but otherwise stayed healthy and logged a personal-high 146 1/3 innings. He supported the solid run prevention with an above-average 23.2% strikeout percentage while only walking 6% of opponents.
That made it an easy call for Lugo to decline a $7.5MM player option. He’ll surely beat that salary and figures to secure a multi-year contract. Lugo turned 34 a couple weeks ago, so it won’t be a particularly long-term commitment. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free-Press reported last week that Lugo was seeking three years.
MLBTR predicted Lugo to receive a three-year term at $14MM annually, ranking him 19th among free agents in expected earning power. As shown on MLBTR’s Contract Tracker, a three-year term beginning in a starting pitcher’s age-34 campaign is rare but not unprecedented. There has been one such deal in each of the past two offseasons. Chris Bassitt secured a $63MM guarantee from the Blue Jays last winter; Sonny Gray landed $75MM from the Cardinals on Monday. Lugo doesn’t have the multi-year track record of starting as those pitchers do, but that could be reflected in a lesser annual salary.
The Dodgers have shied away from long-term pitching investments under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. L.A. signed Kenta Maeda to an eight-year pact when he came over from Japan, but that was an incentive-laden deal with a modest $25MM guarantee. Otherwise, they haven’t gone past three years for a free agent starting pitcher — doing so for Rich Hill ($48MM), Kershaw ($93MM) and Trevor Bauer ($102MM).
That could change this offseason, given both the pitcher-heavy nature of the free agent class and the roster’s rotation issues. The Dodgers should have plenty of payroll room to add multiple starters on the open market. Roster Resource estimates their 2024 luxury tax commitments in the $168MM range, around $69MM below next year’s base threshold.