J.P. Howell will return to the Dodgers for at least two years, according to multiple reports Monday, with the two sides compromising on a third-year option that would pay Howell more than any left-handed reliever on the market this year.
The contract reportedly guarantees Howell $11.25 million through 2015. The third-year option, worth $6.25 million, vests if he makes 120 appearances over the next two seasons. It’s a realistic benchmark for Howell, who appeared in 67 games in 2013, going 4-1 with a 2.18 earned-run average.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti recently expressed some reservations about overpaying for a left-handed reliever “out of desperation.” The third-year option seems to represent a compromise that the two sides could agree on.
Certainly, the Dodgers needed a left-handed complement to Paco Rodriguez, who thrived against left-handers from April through August, then hit a wall in September. The only other lefty reliever on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster with more than three games’ experience in the majors is Scott Elbert. He underwent Tommy John surgery in June and isn’t guaranteed to pitch at all next season.
In his first season in the National League, Howell solidified his reputation in 2013, making him a hot commodity on the market.
Left-handers batted .161/.225/.227 and struck out in 30 percent of their at-bats against Howell. Right-handed batters weren’t much better, compiling a .218/.312/.296 slash line. By the time the National League Championship Series rolled around, Howell was the only left-handed reliever to appear in a game for the Dodgers.
That allowed him to earn a significant raise over the one-year, $2.85 million contract that brought him from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles after the 2012 season. That contract was itself a nice bump from the two-year, $2.4 million contract Howell signed with the Rays prior to 2011. Howell missed all of 2010 following shoulder surgery.
The Dodgers are committed to 19 players for approximately $202 million next season.