20 Days of Thinking Blue: The Exiled Brandon League

The countdown has begun, kids. Opening Night (well, American Opening Night) is fast approaching as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego on March 30th. Leading up until then, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a season of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
Are we ready to let Brandon League back into our lives, or is he still shunned?
I’m all about forgiveness. Jesus taught that–forgiveness is love. Or love is forgiveness. I don’t know, really. At college, I thought a girl had really poor make-up application skills for an hour before I realized it was Ash Wednesday.
Logically, I’m ready to forgive Brandon League for his trespasses. Emotionally? I don’t know about that.

Let’s talk about the positives first. Despite every bad word that’s been spoken about the guy over the past year, he couldn’t have handled it more professionally. The former Seattle closer was a trade deadline acquisition in the 2012 season, brought on board to help supplement a Dodgers bullpen that was faltering under the stewardship of Javy Guerra and a not-quite-ready Kenley Jansen. League wasn’t super spectacular over the season’s final months, but he certainly looked worlds better than his deceiving 3.63 ERA in Seattle over the first half of the year. He ended up scraping together a 2.30 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 27 strikeouts in 27 innings and yielding just 17 hits over 28 games in LA. League revitalized his career after the trade, as he was the closer at the end of September in a surprisingly unsuccessful second place finish for the Dodgers. Despite reservations by many (including EVERYONE), GM Ned Colletti gave him a three year, $22.5 million dollar deal to return to the team as the presumed closer.

Well, EVERYONE’s concerns turned out to be founded in fact, as League cratered as the team’s top reliever. League ended the year with a 5.30 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and 69 hits in 54 innings. He was deposed as the Dodger closer halfway through the season for the sublime Kenley Jansen and eventually left off the postseason roster because of his supreme inefficiency. Other players might have reacted in anger or frustration, but League took the demotion in stride, respectfully moving aside for Jansen.

The team hasn’t openly admitted their folly in signing League long-term thus far in so many words, but their actions have spoken for them–Colletti snapped up two former closers this offseason, shelling $10 million dollars to keep Brian Wilson as set-up man, another $4 million to former Indians reliever Chris Perez as the 7th inning guy, as well as giving lefty JP Howell two years to stay with the team as perhaps the 6th inning man. The far more trustworthy Paul Maholm and Jamey Wright have been inked as mop-up and long men, with Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow waiting in the minors should anything happen to any of the other ‘pen members.

It’s clear that the team doesn’t trust League in almost any capacity, as I can’t see a clear, defined role for him this year. The Dodgers have the luxury of being able to spend away their problems, hence rendering a $7 million dollar reliever as nothing more than an arm in a blow-out. The only pressure League will have this year is to pitch well enough for the Dodgers to not cut him and eat his money for next season, which is exactly the type of environment the inconsistent League could thrive in.

Dodgers fans can feel pretty safe about letting Brandon League back in their hearts, if for no other reason than the team has plenty of other options should he falter. Expectations are at an all-time low for the former Seattle closer, the best possible situation for him. If he sucks, the team will have no problems cutting him.


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