Will the Dodgers make a play for Michael Bourn?
The Los Angeles Dodgers got the biggest pitching prize of the offseason, signing free agent Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract.
With that, the Dodgers appear to be a loaded team. The team arguably already had enough pitchers to fill out its starting rotation, yet it wanted another top-level arm to pair with Clayton Kershaw to lead the pitching staff.
Most of the work on the lineup came with one month remaining in the regular season, with Adrian Gonzalez coming over in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox and taking over at first base. Outfielder Carl Crawford was included in the deal, but won't play for the Dodgers until next season.
That doesn't leave many holes for general manager Ned Colletti to fill during the six weeks prior to spring training in Glendale, Ariz. But rumors of an Andre Ethier trade and interest in reliever Joel Hanrahan before he was dealt to Boston show that the Dodgers still have some moves in mind.
As seen with the Greinke signing, Colletti hasn't had an issue with building a surplus at a position with an eye on making some trades later.
The Dodgers currently have seven starting pitchers on their staff, leaving Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang looking like prime trade bait that could help patch some of the holes on the roster. This is purely speculation, but perhaps Colletti could interest the Baltimore Orioles in a veteran starter and get a stalled prospect like Brian Matusz. That would address the team's need for a left-hander.
Colletti also has an abundance of utility infielders that might interest some teams, but the Dodgers probably won't get more than fringe prospects in return.
Skimming off the excess of starting pitchers and utilitymen, however, still might not get the Dodgers the players they need the most. The best missing pieces for the roster are still available in free agency.
For instance, a left-handed reliever. Though the Dodgers chased Hanrahan, one of the reasons Colletti may have been interested in him is because he's allowed a .220 average and .686 OPS against left-handed batters over his career. That's as effective as most lefty specialists would be.
But there are several left-handed relievers the Dodgers could sign at a relatively inexpensive price and without giving up the prospects that getting Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates would have required.
The best of the bunch is probably J.P. Howell, who compiled a 3.04 ERA and struck out 42 batters in 50.1 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays last season.
Another option is Pedro Feliciano, who appeared in 92 games for the New York Mets, posting a 3.22 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. Rich Hill might also be worth taking a chance on. He pitched in only 25 games for the Red Sox last year after returning from Tommy John surgery, but he's a strikeout threat, punching out 21 batters in 19.9 innings.
Judging from their apparent interest in trading Ethier, the Dodgers either intend to get similar production in a cheaper player or seek an outfielder who can bring something different to the lineup.
The team was reportedly looking at Nick Swisher, who would have cost approximately $30 million less than Ethier, but that's obviously no longer a possibility now that Swisher has signed with the Cleveland Indians.
If the Dodgers are serious about dealing Ethier away, it almost certainly means that Colletti has his eyes on Michael Bourn. Bourn would give the lineup a leadoff hitter that it never had last season. Unlike Dee Gordon, Bourn hits and gets on base well enough to use his speed to steal bases.
With Crawford in left field and Bourn in center, the Dodgers would be much better defensively. Kemp would move to right, where he's less of a liability, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. Bourn and Crawford would also be able to produce runs with their speed, something the Dodgers offense was lacking last season.
One more area where Colletti might like to bring in another player is catcher, where the Dodgers don't have a proven backup for A.J. Ellis. At one point during the offseason, there were rumblings that the team might pursue A.J. Pierzynski.
Pierzynski certainly would have provided a left-handed power threat, and we all probably would've had too much fun with the Dodgers having two players name A.J. behind the plate.
But with Ellis posting a .373 OPS last season with 13 home runs and 52 RBI, he performed too well to be a part-time player. Pierzynski wouldn't have settled for such a role either.
The Dodgers could be all right with Tim Federowicz backing up Ellis. He hit .294 with an .832 OPS in 432 plate appearances for Triple-A Albuquerque last year.
But there are plenty of veteran alternatives still on the free-agent shelf. The Dodgers are already familiar with Rod Barajas, who played with them in 2010 and 2011. Kelly Shoppach would bring some of the power that Colletti may have been seeking with Pierzynski. Yorvit Torrealba and Jesus Flores are bodies who have played catcher as well.
Unless the Dodgers want Federowicz to get more playing time, however, it's difficult to see why he shouldn't be on the active major league roster this upcoming season.
As has become the case with the Dodgers since the Guggenheim Baseball Management group took over ownership of the team, it's not boring around Chavez Ravine when it comes to player transactions.
Typically, a GM in Colletti's position would look to sign players for depth at this point of the offseason. Yet the Dodgers could still make two big, splashy moves if they sign Bourn—one of the top players on the free-agent market—and deal Ethier, who's been in Los Angeles for seven years.
That seems like business as usual with the Dodgers these days.
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