MLB Free Agency: 8 Big Names LA Dodgers Will Pursue to Form Super-Team

Geoff Ratliff@@geoffratliffContributor IIISeptember 14, 2012

MLB Free Agency: 8 Big Names LA Dodgers Will Pursue to Form Super-Team

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers have undergone a massive overhaul this season, a transformation that is sure to carry over into MLB free agency this winter. Los Angeles is one of Major League Baseball’s premier franchises, and they’ll stop at nothing to ensure that the on-field results accurately represent the Dodgers brand. 

    The Dodgers have been on a spending spree since Guggenheim Baseball Management purchased the team this past spring. Team president Stan Kasten and general manager Ned Colletti are under strict orders to assemble the best roster possible, regardless of the financial costs. 

    Since mid-July, Los Angeles has given All-Star right fielder Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million extension, signed Cuban free agent outfielder Yasiel Puig to a record seven-year, $42 million deal and taken on more than $300 million in guaranteed contracts via a series of trades.

    Those moves have lifted the Dodgers closer to the MLB penthouse, but there’s still plenty of work to do in the offseason.

    Here are eight free agents that Los Angeles should pursue over the next two years to put them back on the short list of perpetual World Series contenders.

Zack Greinke, RHP

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    If the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim can’t agree to a contract extension with Zack Greinke, expect the Dodgers to be among his strongest suitors in free agency. 

    The Angels took a risk by acquiring Greinke from the Milwaukee Brewers in July with no guarantee that he’d be around beyond this season. If that gamble backfires, He’ll be the hottest name on the market this winter.

    The Dodgers have six starting pitchers under contract next year, but injuries to Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly could create a greater since of urgency in the team’s offseason approach. 

    Billingsley may miss the entire 2013 season if his elbow injury requires Tommy John surgery. Lilly’s future as an effective starter is in doubt following a left shoulder injury that’s kept him out of the rotation since early May.

    Before Los Angeles can set their sights on the World Series, they must first conquer the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. The 2010 world champions are built around one of the best starting rotations in the majors, and Greinke—the 2009 AL Cy Young award winner—would help the Dodgers close the gap.

    With 2011 NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and Greinke at the top of the rotation, Los Angeles would have the dynamic duo that championship dreams are made of.

Fernando Rodney, RHP

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    The Tampa Bay Rays have a $2.5 million team option on closer Fernando Rodney for 2013. If they don’t pick it up, however, the Dodgers could be in line for his services.

    Current closer Kenley Jansen is a serious health risk now that a reoccurring heart condition has sidelined him for the second time in as many seasons. His replacement, Brandon League, will be a free agent this winter as well.

    Rodney has been the American League's best closer this year, converting 42-of-44 save opportunities while posting a minuscule 0.69 ERA in 66.1 innings pitched. He’d provide excellent insurance in case Jansen’s heart problems become more serious in the future.

Ryan Dempster, RHP

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    Ryan Dempster was the Dodgers’ top pitching target before the July 31 trade deadline. He vetoed a trade to the Atlanta Braves in hopes that he would end up in Los Angeles, but the the Dodgers were unable to agree on trade terms with the Chicago Cubs

    Dempster was eventually dealt to the Texas Rangers, a destination that many felt would deflate his value by the time free agency arrived in November. After a pair of rough starts at the beginning of his tenure in Texas, Dempster has been outstanding for the Rangers as they look to secure their third consecutive trip to the playoffs.

    If Los Angeles is unable to lure Greinke to Chavez Ravine, Colletti could quickly turns his attention back towards Dempster. 

    At 35, he would be a less expensive, short-term alternative to Greinke. With Kershaw due for a big contract extension himself following the 2013 season, that may be a more desirable course of action for the Dodgers.

Colby Lewis, RHP

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    Like Dempster, Colby Lewis is another veteran right-hander that the Dodgers could target in free agency. Lewis had been the Rangers’ most consistent starter over the past two-and-a-half seasons before a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow ended his season after 16 starts.

    The injury will have an impact on Lewis’ price tag on the open market, but the Dodgers have shown a willingness to take a chance on starters with serious injury history (see Chris Capuano). 

    He could very well return to Texas next season, as their familiarity with Lewis could make them more inclined to take a chance on his health. But if Greinke and Dempster become unavailable, and Billingsley does indeed end up missing most of 2013, he could end up on Los Angeles’ radar.

Edwin Jackson, RHP

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    Who says you can’t go home?

    Edwin Jackson began his major league career with Los Angeles as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. He failed to deliver on his considerable talent in three seasons with the Dodgers and was eventually traded to the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2006 season. 

    Six years later, Jackson is coming off a 2011 season during which he became a key member of the St. Louis Cardinals’ starting rotation and helped them win the Word Series (following a midseason trade from the Chicago White Sox).

    He signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals in the offseason and is a big reason why the Nats still feel they are favorite to reach the World Series, even after shutting down staff ace Stephen Strasburg for the rest of the season.

    Still just 29, Jackson has put together back-to-back impressive seasons with the White Sox, Cardinals and Nationals. His relative youth and track record of postseason success will make him one of the more attractive starting pitchers on the free agent market this winter.

Aaron Hill, 2B (2014)

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    Following two disappointing, injury-filled seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, second baseman Aaron Hill has rediscovered his swing since being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks last August.

    He hit .315 in 33 games after arriving in Arizona last year. He’s hit .294 with 22 home runs in 138 games this year, the most games he’s played since the 2010 season that sent his career spiraling downward.

    Hill was quickly establishing himself as one of MLB’s best second basemen after he belted 36 home runs, with 103 runs scored and 106 RBI in 2009. But an assortment of injuries caused him to miss 49 games between 2010 and 2011.

    Still just 30, he could become the most attractive free agent at the position if he fails to sign an extension to keep him in Arizona beyond next season.

    The Dodgers top two options at second—current starter Mark Ellis and the recently acquired Nick Punto—are also scheduled to be free agents after 2013, so Hill would be a younger, better replacement for that duo.

    Any potential interest in Hill hinges on how Los Angeles handles its crowded infield situation next season. With Luis Cruz shining at third base and Hanley Ramirez more comfortable at shortstop, the Dodgers need to figure out how to work Dee Gordon back into the lineup next season.

    If they decide to shift one of those players to second, Hill would fall off Los Angeles’ radar.

Josh Johnson, RHP

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    Miami Marlins ace Josh Johnson was one of the biggest names mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the non-waiver deadline this summer. His recent injury history and Miami’s price tag likely scared many teams away, but he appears to be over the right shoulder inflammation that limited him to nine starts in 2011.

    Johnson has already made 29 starts this year, and another injury-free season in 2013 will make him the top pitcher in the free agent class of 2014. The Dodgers only have one starting pitcher (Josh Beckett) under contract for the 2014 season—not including the team option on Billingsley—making Johnson a perfect fit. 

    He’ll only be 29 years old when free agency begins after next season. There’s been no indication that the Marlins will attempt to keep him off the market after their big offseason spending spree this past offseason backfired big time. 

    Los Angeles has the luxury of playing a little loser with its finances, a fact that could land Johnson in a Dodgers uniform in 2012, provided they don’t attempt to trade for him before then.

Jon Lester, LHP (2014)

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    With the Boston Red Sox organization in a state of turmoil, don’t be surprised if Jon Lester becomes the fifth member of the organization to make Los Angeles his new home soon.

    Lester had emerged as one of Major League Baseball’s top young lefties over the previous four seasons. But he’s been mostly ineffective for Boston dating back to last season’s September collapse that cost the Red Sox a certain playoff berth.

    Still just 28, and with no apparent signs of injury, Lester could benefit from a change of scenery—somewhere far, far away from Beantown.

    Assuming the Dodgers sign Kershaw to a long-term contract extension, adding Lester would give Los Angeles two of the best left-handed starters in baseball. That would go a long way towards building a starting rotation that rivals that of the San Francisco Giants.