Coming Soon: 6 Man Rotations

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Tyler Kepner

New York Times News Service

Parade of relievers keeps rolling

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Much like the postseason, the baseball winter meetings became a parade of relievers.

Steve Cishek and Fernando Rodney were on the move Thursday, joining Brandon Morrow, Luke Gregerson, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and other setup men, middlemen and specialists going to new teams this week.

The bullpen gates figure to keep swinging open, too. Closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland are still available. Cishek and Morrow are going to the Chicago Cubs, who could lose Davis.

GMs, executives and scouts who packed a hotel lobby near Disney World for three days headed home, eager to continue their holiday shopping.

Big hitters J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana are in play, along with Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn certainly would help any rotation.

Overall, 12 major league free agents have finalized contracts this offseason. At the same point last year, there had 42 deals.

— The Associated Press

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The first time Mike Scioscia caught a full season in the major leagues, he guided a pitching staff that modern fans would not recognize.

Scioscia’s 1982 Los Angeles Dodgers, the reigning World Series champions, used three pitchers for at least 36 starts each. Those pitchers — Fernando Valenzuela, Jerry Reuss and Bob Welch — all worked at least 235 innings that season. They all lasted into the 1990s and combined for nearly 10,000 career innings.

Parade of relievers keeps rolling

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Much like the postseason, the baseball winter meetings became a parade of relievers.

Steve Cishek and Fernando Rodney were on the move Thursday, joining Brandon Morrow, Luke Gregerson, Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith and other setup men, middlemen and specialists going to new teams this week.

The bullpen gates figure to keep swinging open, too. Closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland are still available. Cishek and Morrow are going to the Chicago Cubs, who could lose Davis.

GMs, executives and scouts who packed a hotel lobby near Disney World for three days headed home, eager to continue their holiday shopping.

Big hitters J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana are in play, along with Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas. Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn certainly would help any rotation.

Overall, 12 major league free agents have finalized contracts this offseason. At the same point last year, there had 42 deals.

— The Associated Press

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“There’s a lot of pitchers that have handled 200 innings a year, 33 starts, and never looked back,” Scioscia said at the winter meetings this week. “They’re fine with it. And there are some pitchers that have a problem getting to 170 innings.”

These days, as manager of the Los Angeles Angels, Scioscia deals with a lot more pitchers like that. Of the top seven starting candidates on his roster, only one, Garrett Richards, has ever pitched more than 160 innings in a major league season. And injuries have limited Richards to 12 starts, total, in the two years since he did it.

The solution, for the Angels, could be a six-man rotation, a device that teams have tried periodically, though rarely for long. In the Angels’ case, the idea could help them smooth Shohei Ohtani’s heralded entry to the major leagues.

Ohtani, the pitching and slugging phenom, chose the Angels last week after leaving the Nippon Ham Fighters in Japan. He has been dominant on the mound, with 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, and a 2.52 earned run average. But he has never made more than 24 starts in a season in Japan, where teams use six-man rotations.

Scioscia has said only that he is considering a six-man arrangement, without committing to it. But general manager Billy Eppler sees the way baseball is heading. The Houston Astros won the World Series last season and used no pitcher for more than 1531⁄3 innings. The team they beat, the Dodgers, had just one pitcher who crossed that threshold.

Neither team used a six-man rotation, but as pitchers throw harder and injuries rise, more teams are spreading around their innings. Six-man rotations could be a more structured way to do it.

“That’s been the way the game’s been trending, historically, if you look back,” Eppler said. “I’ve spoken with some other clubs about that concept, and there’s some other clubs that are considering it. If it can help keep guys healthy and you’re able to get a little bit more reliability out of your pitchers because of it, I’m all for it.”

Ohtani received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow in October, and Yahoo! Sports reported this week that a medical report in Japan last month had revealed a first-degree sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. Teams knew this information during the recruiting process for Ohtani, and his ligament injury is said to be the least severe of its type.

Eppler said Ohtani’s injection was preventive, and that doctors had assured him Ohtani’s elbow showed normal wear for a 23-year-old pitcher. Ohtani is now playing catch at 180 to 200 feet, and the Angels do not sound worried about arm problems.

“I think that’s past him, and our understanding is there are no restrictions at all going into spring training,” Scioscia said. “He’ll get down there in plenty of time and be ready to go.”

Nearly every major league team pursued Ohtani, many with elaborate recruiting pitches. The San Diego general manager, A.J. Preller, spoke in Japanese for three minutes during the Padres’ presentation. They told Ohtani they were contemplating a six-man rotation with or without him.

“Most of our young guys that we’re going to rely on to be big-time starters for us in the future, they’re coming up in a six-man rotation system,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “We introduced it in September last year, which is probably common for a lot of clubs that aren’t in contention to do that. If there’s not a disparity between your 1 and 6 at the level there is with most teams, there’s reason to do it, because the rest is probably really good for guys.”

Ohtani’s unusual status as a hybrid player, Green said, could ease the roster crunch that a six-man rotation would create. Teams are still limited to 25-man rosters until September, and for teams that carry 13 pitchers, managers have little flexibility to substitute position players.

Even the Angels, Eppler said, are emphasizing flexibility as they try to bolster an offense that ranked last in the American League in slugging percentage. They have re-signed outfielder Justin Upton — acquired in a trade with Detroit last August — and traded prospects to the Tigers on Wednesday for Ian Kinsler, a veteran second baseman with power.

“There’s some more boxes to check, if possible, perhaps in the outfield,” Eppler said. “It just depends. We’re trying to stay so open-minded with the position players we add to the roster right now and really put a premium on flexibility. If we were able to acquire a guy that could play infield and outfield, that would be nice.”

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