Capuano welcomes competition in rotation
Left-hander excited to be with Dodgers despite trade rumblings
LOS ANGELES -- In 2012, Chris Capuano had a career-best 3.72 ERA. His 198 1/3 innings pitched, second most on the Dodgers' staff, were his highest total since 2006. He also ranked second on the club with 12 wins and 162 strikeouts.
Oh, and he probably lost his job for 2013.
Capuano is one of eight starting pitchers on the Dodgers' roster with a guaranteed salary for this year -- $6 million with a mutual option for 2014. Only five will make the rotation. With ownership's unlimited budget, the Dodgers spent more than $200 million to upgrade the rotation by signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to join ace Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett.
That leaves Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly for the final spot, which undoubtedly will go to Billingsley if he's healed from a partially torn elbow ligament. Lilly also is a question mark, coming off shoulder surgery after the best first half of his career.
So, being on a club that is spending wildly to buy a winner is a great thing to members of that team, unless it means they become ex-members of that team. Capuano's name has been mentioned prominently in trade talks, but general manager Ned Colletti needs to know if Billingsley is healed before determining how much of a pitching surplus he really has.
"For me, it's always fluid," said Colletti. "One day you have too many, the next day too little."
Capuano, 34, knows the 2013 season for the Dodgers could be something special.
"It's exciting to be part of the rejuvenation of baseball on the West Coast," Capuano told MLB.com's Ben Platt at a Players Association meeting in La Jolla, Calif., last week. "It's been like a shot of adrenaline, not only the roster but revamping the stadium. It's an exciting time to be in the Dodgers organization."
But will he remain in the Dodgers organization? He's heard the rumors. He's seen the roster. A Phi Beta Kappa at Duke, he can do the math -- eight starting pitchers, five starting spots. The only year he pitched out of the bullpen was 2010, when he was returning from a second Tommy John surgery.
"Competition goes with being part of a great team," he said. "You've got to earn your way onto it. You prepare for every season the same way. Get your body, your arm in the best shape possible. You never know what can happen. All we want, as players, is to be part of something special. That's all about timing, being healthy and performing at the right time."
When Capuano signed last winter, the Dodgers were in bankruptcy and filling holes on the cheap. They signed Capuano and Harang combined for less than it would have taken to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, who went to the Yankees. Capuano opened the season 9-4 with a 2.91 ERA in his first 18 starts, but he went 3-8 with a 4.76 ERA in the last 15 starts to finish the season 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA. Now these are vastly different times for the Dodgers than a year ago, the new owners bent on restoring the team's dominance in the game as well as in the city of Los Angeles, at any cost.
"The owners came in with a lot of swagger -- Magic [Johnson, partner], a bigger-than-life personality, and the Guggenheim Group with their reputation," said Capuano. "Then they backed it up. They came in a real sweet spot for them, got a lot of revenue with the TV contract coming up, and they're not afraid to spend that money to improve the stadium, improve the team, improve the fan experience. They really stepped up."
Capuano didn't sign with the Dodgers to leave them on the eve of "something special." He's hoping that, somehow, it all works out.
"Last season, we had been spinning our wheels and we felt like we should be doing something there, and all of a sudden, we got traction those last 12 games," Capuano said. "It was very bittersweet, missing that close. But it is exciting having that many guys coming back and the team having a chance to come together in Spring Training. I'd love to see what a healthy Dodgers team can do from Spring Training."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.