The Dodgers "No Improvement Plan"

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On Tuesday the Dodgers dealt Juan Pierre to the White Sox for two pitching prospects to be named later.  While the transaction will cost the Dodgers their fourth outfielder (who had a successful 2009 season), they will save about $8 million.  The deal, yet again, exemplifies this off-season's plan for the Dodgers: the No Improvement Plan.

There are three rules to the No Improvement Plan that the Dodgers have followed thus far.  The first: just say "no" to expensive arbitration.  The Dodgers declined to offer arbitration to Randy Wolf—arguably the Dodgers most successful starting pitcher last year—as well as starting second baseman Orlando Hudson, Ronnie Belliard, and four others. 

The Dodgers presumably saved a few bucks by declining arbitration, but also lost possible compensation draft picks in the event that other teams sign those players (Wolf has already been signed by the Brewers).  Not so coincidentally, the Dodgers are currently in the market for—you guessed it—a starting pitcher and a second baseman.

The second rule is to stay away from expensive free agents.  Yes, the Dodgers have a recent history of failed contracts including the Jason Schmidt (three years/$47 million) and Andruw Jones (two years/$36 million) busts. 

Yes, the off-season is still young with plenty of time to sign a few key pieces.  However, Dodgers GM Ned Colleti was depicted as a fly on the wall at the Winter Meetings.  Several teams were linked to John Lackey before he agreed to terms with the Red Sox.  The Dodgers were not one of them. 

It was even reported that the LA-loving Randy Wolf gave the Dodgers one last chance to sign him before he inked his deal with the Brewers.  There are still some big names out there like Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, but the Dodgers aren't expected to enter those sweepstakes (as they shouldn't).  Instead, it is believed that the Dodgers will seek a late off-season acquisition when the market is down and leftover free agents are desperate to sign at discounted prices. 

The third and final rule of the No Improvement Plan dictates that a team trade value for prospects. 

Given that the Dodgers outfield is full and Pierre's contract is a hefty nine million dollars  annually, Tuesday's trade with the White Sox may seem like a good move.  Let's consider a few alternatives.  Let's say the Dodgers hold on to Pierre.  Keep in mind that Pierre was the offensive catalyst during Manny's 50-game suspension and batted a solid .308/.365/.392 in over 400 plate appearances with 30 stolen bases. 

Also, remember that Manny seriously struggled after his return from suspension and batted a measly .255/.379/.459 with only 10 home runs after the all-star break.  Why not hold on to the speedy Pierre to patch any outfield holes and split time with a seemingly declining Manny who's turning 38 in May? 

Another alternative would be to trade Pierre for another unwanted contract.  It has been rumored that the Mets are shopping Luis Castillo and looking to pick up an outfielder (as they were linked to Mike Cameron before he was snagged by the Red Sox).  Did the Dodgers consider such a player swap that would fill a starting spot?  It doesn't seem like it.

The No Improvement Plan wouldn't be a topic of discussion if the team implementing it were the Pirates or the Orioles.  But it's the Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in baseball history, and it's happening a season after they made it to their second consecutive National League Championship Series. 

Instead of acquiring players to get over the hump (named the Phillies), the Dodgers are in full economic savings mode.  Should we already deem this off-season a waste and consider the upcoming season a lost cause?  The next three months will significantly shape the Dodgers fate and only then will we have a better idea.

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