GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have been all about big numbers this past offseason -- the $2 billion purchase price of the team, the $230 million payroll, the $100 million stadium renovation, the $7-$8 billion TV deal.
For a handful of players, though, another smaller math problem has their attention. How does eight divide into five?
The Dodgers committed over $200 million to sign free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke and Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu during the offseason. Combined with the midseason acquisition of Josh Beckett last year, the expected return from shoulder surgery of Ted Lilly and the continued presence of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, the Dodgers arrived in camp with eight major-league starting pitchers -- seven established veterans and Ryu, who is virtually guaranteed a spot in the rotation.
It is an embarrassment of riches at a time when many teams are hoping to identify a fifth starter, maybe a fourth as well.
GM Ned Colletti scoffs at the idea that having too many starters could ever be a problem.
"I'll tell you what is a problem -- having four starters in this day and age is a problem," Colletti said. "Having three is a problem. Having two is a problem. Having one is a problem. Having none is a problem. So -- it's a long, long year.
"How many teams have five starters that go all year long? It doesn't happen. It's a rarity in the game. How many have six? It's a rarity in the game."
Indeed it is. The most recent team to do it was the 2003 Seattle Mariners with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Ryan Franklin, Gil Meche and Joel Pineiro.
Last year, five Cincinnati Reds pitchers (Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake) started 161 of the team's 162 games. Rookie Todd Redmond had to be promoted from the minor leagues to start the second game of a doubleheader on Aug. 18. The Giants' five-man rotation (Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito) started 160 of their 162 games.
Far more common is the nine starters the Dodgers used in 2012. Twenty-two of the 30 MLB teams used at least that many last season.
"I'm telling you -- I know what your guys' jobs are, I know it's great to stir stuff up," Colletti said when questioned about the Dodgers having so many starters in camp. "But we don't have to worry about if you've only got three and how are you going to get through it? Or you've got five but one is coming off shoulder surgery (Lilly) and one is trying to avoid Tommy John surgery (Billingsley)? But you've got five.
"You think I'd like to be sitting here with five with two coming off those scenarios? I don't think I'd like that."
Uncertainty over the status of Billingsley and Lilly factored into the Dodgers' decision to hold on to their surplus of starters since adding Greinke and Ryu. Their dilemma now isn't so much what to do with their eight starters as it is how to hold onto them, a dilemma that will grow as opening day approaches if Billingsley and Lilly continue to demonstrate their return to health.
Most of those teams who used nine or more starters did so by moving one or more between the minors and majors. None of the Dodgers' eight starters can be sent down (Ryu has a clause in his contract that requires the Dodgers to get his permission before sending him to the minors).
"You can't keep them throwing somewhere and then bring them back if you need them," Manager Don Mattingly said. "Once spring training is over, if they're not on our roster, we don't have any control any more. So eight really turns to five or maybe six if one goes to the bullpen."
Stashing a starter in the bullpen is problematic for two reasons. First, five spots in the Dodgers' bullpen are already spoken for with Brandon League, Kenley Jansen, Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell and Javy Guerra virtual locks if healthy. Matt Guerrier and veterans Kevin Gregg, Peter Moylan and Mark Lowe are jockeying for position behind them.
And, none of the Dodgers' eight starters are naturals to fit in the bullpen. The three most likely surplus starters -- Lilly, Harang and Capuano -- have made a combined total of 56 relief appearances in their careers. Fifteen of those were by Capuano in 2009 when he was coming back from a second Tommy John surgery. Lilly hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since 2003. Mattingly has said he doesn't think Harang or Lilly is suited to pitching in relief.
The other possible solution is a trade.
"I started wondering about a trade a lot (after the Greinke and Ryu signings)," Harang acknowledged. "But I just told myself I can't dwell on that. I have to get ready for the season like I normally do. Whether I'm here and starting or in another role or if I'm somewhere else -- I still have to be ready to make my 30 starts this season."
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