Dodgers willing to spend in winter to address holes
After signing Cuban Guerrero, LA ready to pursue Japanese right-hander Tanaka
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers are already out of the Robinson Cano sweepstakes, but they're still owned by billionaires and won't be using the bankruptcy playbook as they shop for free agents.
They have serious interest in Japanese right-handed starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, especially if they can't bring back Ricky Nolasco with a contract befitting a fourth starter. Of course, they've collected plenty of nine-figure players, have a nine-figure negotiation upcoming with Clayton Kershaw and are committed to developing from within. They're also committed to breaking that quarter-century World Series drought, and doing both is no easy trick.
A starting pitcher, as usual, is high on the priority list for general manager Ned Colletti, along with a couple of relievers and a couple of infielders, even after the signing of Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero.
No matter what role Nolasco would have for another team, he'd be only a No. 4 starter for the Dodgers after Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Dodgers have Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley coming off operations, plus Zach Lee and Ross Stripling knocking on the door out of the Minor Leagues.
If Nolasco won't take a hometown discount and the Tanaka bidding goes through the roof, the Dodgers might consider Hiroki Kuroda for a one-year return rather than block the kids with a multi-year deal for a fourth starter. The problem with Kuroda is that it would likely cost the Dodgers a first-round Draft pick.
They have potentially $30 million in salary coming off the books, pending whatever raise Kershaw gets. That includes the final deferred payment to Manny Ramirez, although there's still one year left until Andruw Jones' contract runs off.
Ideally, the Dodgers would bring back set-up men Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell, and they figure to make a run at both. The club is especially thin in left-handed relief, with Paco Rodriguez fading in September and Scott Elbert not expected back until after the All-Star break.
After so many of his players were hurt in 2013, Colletti voiced one specific desire for the winter.
"We need to get younger in some areas, younger and more athletic," he said.
The first move in that direction was locking up Guerrero (26) as the second baseman. Now they can mull whether to keep Juan Uribe (34) at third base or upgrade with a trade. Because they don't know if Guerrero is ready, Colletti hinted last week that he might bring back Mark Ellis (36) too.
Guerrero can also play shortstop, which raises the possibility of moving Hanley Ramirez to third base and either re-signing Ellis to play second base or finding a similar replacement. An aging bench that lacked power needs to be addressed. Jerry Hairston (37), Nick Punto (36 next month), Skip Schumaker (33) and Michael Young (37) are free agents. Shortstop Dee Gordon will play the outfield in winter ball, and if that experiment goes well, it could be his ticket back to the Major Leagues.
Free agents: Jerry Hairston, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol, Ricky Nolasco, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Juan Uribe, Edinson Volquez, Brian Wilson, Michael Young. Players with 2014 options are: Chris Capuano (mutual option $8 million or $1 million buyout) and Mark Ellis (club option $5.75 million or $1 million buyout).
Arbitration eligibles: Mike Baxter, Ronald Belisario, Drew Butera, Scott Elbert, A.J. Ellis, Kenley Jansen, Clayton Kershaw
Non-tender possibilities: Baxter, Butera, Elbert
Areas of need
Starting pitching: They need fourth and fifth starters, but have Beckett (expected for Spring Training) and Billingsley (expected in May) coming off operations, Stephen Fife and Matt Magill with Major League experience, and prospects Lee and Stripling ready for a shot. A short-term deal with Kuroda would make sense.
Bullpen: Maybe the most important re-signing would be left-handed workhorse Howell, as Elbert missed the entire season with elbow surgery and Rodriguez went into such a late tailspin that he was left off the National League Championship Series roster. But Howell will be looking for a multi-year deal, and that didn't go well with Brandon League and Matt Guerrier. It's unlikely Wilson will settle for a return as Jansen's set-up man, and just as unlikely the Dodgers will trust Belisario or League with the job.
Bench: If they ever get Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig healthy together, the one not starting each game becomes the beginning of a potent bench. They could use the power, because the bench this year was all singles hitters.
2014 Payroll: They spent $230 million in 2013 and are already committed for $175 million to 12 players in '14, not even counting Clayton Kershaw. That said, they'd eventually like to show a little restraint.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.