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Boarding the D-Train?

Posted By Dave Leonardis On May 30 2010 @ 11:19 am In Los Angeles Dodgers | 2 Comments

The Detroit Tigers designated former Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis(1-2, 4.98 ERA) for assignment yesterday.

What does that have to do with the Dodgers, you ask? Well, it has become known around the league that the Dodgers have been sniffing around looking for another hurler. They called Seattle about Cliff Lee. They called the Astros about disgruntled flame-thrower Roy Oswalt. Despite the recent surges by young frontline starters Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley as well as the emergence of rookie John Ely, manager Joe Torre and general manager Ned Colletti want to add another arm, even with veteran pitcher Vicente Padilla due back sometime next month.

The obstacle holding up trades for Lee or Oswalt is that both the Mariners and Astros would require a solid prospect who can be majors-ready within the next year. The Dodgers lack those type of prospects, depending on what you think of lefties Aaron Miller and Scott Elbert. The team could part with shortstop prospect Ivan DeJesus, who missed almost all of 2009 with injuries and who is currently blocked by Midwest League co-MVP Dee Gordon(one of MLB.com’s top 50 prospects as well as the son of former reliever Tom “Flash” Gordon”) or even outfielder Xavier Paul.

However, if the Dodgers find the price steep for Lee or Oswalt, they could take a chance with Willis. With Willis designated for assignment, a team would have to claim Willis off waivers and accept the remainder of the $12 million on his contract. That seems unlikely as Willis hasn’t had a good season since 2005(when he won 22 games with the Marlins and finished 2nd in the NL Cy Young voting). The Tigers would have 10 days to trade, release or send Willis down to the minors. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has already gone on record to say he would rather just find a taker for Willis’ contract instead of keeping “The D-Train” in Motown.

While Willis has struggled in Detroit since coming over the Miguel Cabrera blockbuster deal from Florida in 2007, things could be different in Los Angeles. For one, Willis’ best years have come when pitching in the National League. He would be playing in a much more pitcher-friendly ballpark in Dodger Stadium, and he’ll be playing close to home(Willis grew up in Oakland). For the Dodgers, they wouldn’t have to give up nearly enough for Willis as they would for the two other pitchers they targeted(assuming, of course, they even bother to trade instead of waiting for Willis to hit the open market). Plus, with Willis already collecting a check from Detroit in a release, he may be open to coming back home for less money if it means playing for a contender, whereas a pitcher like Cliff Lee(who is a free agent at season’s end) would want a big extension. Yes, Willis has battled injuries and a bout with anxiety disorder, but he’s still only 28 and would be a steal if he can return to his 2005 form.

The Dodgers have lost four of their last six and still sit two back in the NL West. Now, the pitching isn’t completely to blame for the recent skid. Andre Ethier has been out(although he could be back sometime this week) and the team is still waiting for Manny Ramirez to return to his pre-suspension 2009 form(or even his pre-DL 2010 form) and start producing runs in the middle of the order. Still, the Dodgers interest in another ace says something about their faith in their rotation and Vicente Padilla hasn’t shown anything to inspire confidence that he deserves a spot on the team, let alone the rotation. A low-risk move like signing Willis(who has playoff experience from his World Series run in 2003 and is also pretty good with a bat in his hands) makes more sense than either selling the farm for Lee or Oswalt or hoping for a bounce back from Padilla.

If the Dodgers are serious about adding to the rotation, then they should hop aboard “The D-Train”.

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