Dodgers “Very Close” To Re-Signing Joe Kelly

12:29PM: Kelly and the Dodgers have agreed to terms, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports (X link), and the deal will be official when Kelly passes a physical.  It is expected that Kelly signed a one-year contract, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post.

11:31AM: The Dodgers and right-hander Joe Kelly are “very close” to a new contract, sources tell FanSided’s Robert Murray (X link).  Los Angeles passed on a $9.5MM club option on the ACES client last month, instead buying Kelly out for $1MM and sending him into free agency.

This will mark Kelly’s third separate stint in Dodger Blue.  The reliever first joined the team on a three-year, $25MM free agent contract during the 2018-19 offseason, and after L.A. declined a $12MM club option for a fourth year of that deal, Kelly signed with the White Sox on a two-year, $17MM pact.  2023 was the last guaranteed year of that deal, and with Chicago caught in the midst of a disastrous season, the Sox moved Kelly and Lance Lynn to the Dodgers prior to the trade deadline.

Kelly had a 4.97 ERA over 29 innings for the White Sox prior to the trade, but he regained his form in his old stomping grounds with a sparking 1.74 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over 11 appearances for the Dodgers.  Since Kelly’s secondary numbers with Chicago had been far more impressive than his ERA, the Dodgers bet correctly that Kelly was due some positive course-correction.  For the season as a whole, Kelly posted a 4.12 ERA, 58% grounder rate, 35.7% strikeout rate, and 10.7% walk rate over 39 1/3 innings.  While the walk rate is on the high side, the outstanding strikeout and grounder numbers made up for some shaky control, and Kelly’s arm is still very live at age 35, with a fastball averaging 98.9mph.

Despite these results, Kelly’s health has been a question mark, which likely factored into the Dodgers’ decision to decline that $9.5MM option.  Kelly has been on the injured list eight times over the last four seasons, with three of those stints (due to forearm inflammation, elbow inflammation, and a groin strain) coming in 2023.  While none of the injuries were overly serious, the cumulative IL time cost Kelly around two months of the season, and creates some doubt about how well he can hold up over the course of a full campaign and into what the Dodgers hope will be a deep run into the playoffs.

The bullpen was a big strength for the Dodgers last season, and reinforcing that strength is of particular import considering all of the questions L.A. is facing in the starting rotation.  The Dodgers will surely add some depth and possibly even some superstar arms to the pitching staff by winter’s end, yet obviously it helps the run prevention efforts on the whole if the relief corps has enough depth and quality to help bail out the starters.  Evan Phillips will return as the closer, with Kelly joining Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson as primary setup options.

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