The Dodgers signed Ronald Belisario as a free agent on Jan. 16, 2009. On Monday, they declined to tender him a contract before the 9 p.m. deadline for arbitration-eligible players, making him a free agent again.
The intervening four-plus years were hardly quiet.
Belisario was one of the Dodgers’ go-to relievers when they could go to him. The right-hander appeared in 69 games in 2009, 59 in 2010, 68 in 2012 and a team-high 77 games in 2013. He was more effective than not from April until August of this year, posting a 3.18 ERA despite a 1.41 WHIP and a propensity to let inherited runners score (36 percent, a high rate for a workhorse).
Something — the workload, the nagging inability to find the strike zone — caught up with Belisario in September, when he completely lost his command and saw his ERA rise to 3.97 over a string of rocky appearances. Belisario walked seven and struck out three in his final 11 innings of the regular season.
The playoffs didn’t go much better. Belisario allowed runs in just two of his seven appearances, but by then he’d already ceded the primary set-up role to Brian Wilson.
Perhaps the ending to Belisario’s prolific season was enough to sour the Dodgers on bringing him back. His price tag should have been affordable to the folks at Guggenheim Baseball Management. Belisario made $1.45 million in 2013 and, according to one estimate, was in line to make $2.3 million in 2014.
Although this was an uneventful year for Belisario off the field, 2013 was an exception to the rule.
In 2011, Belisario said a positive cocaine test prevented him from leaving his native Venezuela. He didn’t pitch for the Dodgers all year, and was suspended for the first 25 games of the following season.
In 2009, Belisario was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, a charge that was later reduced to reckless driving and a $1,000 fine. He reported late to spring training the following year. Belisario reported to camp on time in 2012 and was a model citizen by all accounts the past two seasons. Fiery on the field, he was among the more approachable players in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.
Even though he could ultimately re-sign, Belisario didn’t seem to be in the team’s plans for 2014. The Dodgers were among the first teams to make an offer to Joe Smith, a free agent right-handed reliever who ultimately got the three-year deal he wanted from the Angels. FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reported that the Dodgers were in on the talks to acquire Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles before Johnson went to Oakland in exchange for Jemile Weeks on Monday night.
Between Belisario’s inconsistencies and general manager Ned Colletti’s stated desire to field a younger team next season — Belisario turns 31 in December — the move didn’t come as a total surprise.
It’s still early in the free agency period, but the need for help in the bullpen and on the bench now top the Dodgers’ wish list. Among the team’s incumbent relievers, only Brandon League and Scott Elbert currently have contracts for 2014. Closer Kenley Jansen was tendered an offer (along with catcher A.J. Ellis and pitcher Clayton Kershaw) before Monday’s deadline, and several young relievers remain under team control, notably left-handers Paco Rodriguez and Onelki Garcia, and right-handers Jose Dominguez, Chris Withrow and Javy Guerra.
Baseball’s winter meetings begin a week from today in Orlando, Florida. It’s clear the Dodgers have some work to do. If not Belisario, who will they target?
In targeting Wilson, Johnson and League — among others — Colletti has shown a recent disposition toward former closers. Two, both righties, became free agents Monday: Andrew Bailey and John Axford, who were non-tendered by the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively. Bailey is expected to miss a significant portion of next season as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Axford thrived in a seventh/eighth inning role in September for the Cardinals, making him a likelier target. Axford made $5 million last season, a contract signed while he was still slotted as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer.