Eeenie-Meenie: Predicting the Future of the L.A. Dodgers 2011 Free Agents
Lilly pitching with the number he should have had three years ago
Amidst a failing 2010 campaign, a messy divorce between owners, and uncertainty regarding funds for next season, the Los Angeles Dodgers have several key players that will be eligible for free agency next season.
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti has said that, given a likely lack of funds stemming from the McCourt divorce, he is uncertain regarding the approaching free agency period.
Given the circumstances, here are possible outcomes for all of the possible 2011 Dodgers free agents.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP
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Dodgers front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda will be a free agent at the end of the 2010 season, and figures to request a higher dollar figure in any potential contract for next season and beyond.
Kuroda is currently the highest paid Dodger in the 2010 season, making roughly $13 million this season. In addition, all of his visa expenses are paid for by the club, along with round trip tickets back and forth between Los Angeles and his native Japan.
The Japanese starter has been highly effective as a Dodger, with a mark of 27-28 and a 3.62 ERA in 78 games. Although his win-loss totals aren't eye-popping, he has not been given adequate run support from a struggling offense.
Make no mistake, Kuroda will receive attention from several major league clubs when the free agency period begins. The Dodgers will have a chance to keep him off the market, having the first chance at re-signing him before other clubs.
Kuroda is expected to request nearly $15 million a year, and may be one of few Dodgers expenses. Los Angeles has expressed interest in retaining the righty, but they will approach the situation with caution, as funds will be limited as of right now.
Potential teams for Kuroda include the Dodgers, Tigers, White Sox, and Red Sox. Each of these teams have a shaky starting rotation, whether it be due to a lack of funds or injuries in some cases.
The Red Sox appear to be the front-runners should the Dodgers fail to pony up the funds. The Sox are no strangers to Japanese pitchers, with Junichi Tazawa, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Hideki Okajima already on the roster. Should the Red Soxs retain each of those pitchers, and add Kuroda, the case would be make for effective Japanese expansion in major league baseball, on one of the most storied franchises in all of sports.
Boston will have the necessary payroll to afford Kuroda, and outside the Dodgers, the Red Soxs seem like the better fit.
James Loney, 1B
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The Dodgers resigned first baseman James Loney in January 2010 to avoid arbitration, and he is currently making $3.1M this season. First base is one area Los Angeles is expected to improve on before next season. Loney is a solid fielder and run-producing source, but first base has become a power bat position, and Loney has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season, and he isn't even close in 2010.
The free agent market is froth with first basemen at the end of the 2010 season, including Derrek Lee, and INF/OF Adam Dunn. The Dodgers looked at Adam Dunn this season, but ultimately passed because they couldn't afford his current salary, and had nothing in return should the Nationals request a trade.
A power bat and a front-line starting pitcher are the two most needed targets for L.A. Loney is expecting a raise for next season, and plenty of teams could use his services, including the Cubs, Astros and Angels.
Loney will likely make around $5M next season, and the Dodgers may spend more money to get a slugger, while getting bargain pitching in the bullpen, and players with low expectations off the bench.
The Angels seem to be a good fit for Loney, as the Halos cycle through first basemen like changing their underwear. With Kendry Morales' future in doubt, a solid first base candidate like Loney would be appealing to a team looking for stability. The Angels can afford his contract, and may make a run at signing him if the Dodgers pass.
Ted Lilly, SP
Since coming over to the Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline, Ted Lilly has been overly effective, going 5-1 with an ERA under 3.00 and a high strikeout-to-walk ratio.
It's obvious the Dodgers are concerned about affording him next season, having already placed him on waivers before pulling him back from the Yankees. Lilly is currently making $12 million this season, with a large chunk of his contract being picked up by the Cubs.
An effective left-handed starter is always a hot commodity in MLB, and several teams will come calling for Lilly. The Yankees probably still have him on their radar, and the Tigers, White Sox, and Rangers may try to lure him away from the National League.
A California native and avid Dodgers fan growing up, Lilly has expressed his dream to pitch for Los Angeles in the past, and it nearly came true a few years ago. The Dodgers passed on Lilly, instead offering a large contract and a place in the rotation to then-Giants pitcher Jason Schmidt . Schmidt never fully recovered from arm surgery, but the Dodgers are still paying off his contract. Schmidt retired this season, and Lilly got his chance.
It's possible that Lilly will give the Boys in Blue a break on funds next season and allow Los Angeles to defer his contract payments, such as Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Manny Ramirez have done in recent seasons.
Lilly will likely have a contract structured similarly to Kuroda's and make nearly $14 million next season.
The Tigers and Rangers look like monetary suitors for Lilly. The Rangers under new ownership have been aggressive in acquiring players for the 2010 playoff push and will attempt to retain their talent for next season. Adding Lilly to their rotation would be a solid move, and the Rangers may have the funds to do it.
It would be great for L.A. to hold on to Lilly, but they'll have to come up with serious funds they may not have if they acquire a power bat.
Russell Martin, C
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Russell Martin will be arbitration-eligible at the end of the 2010 season, but it's difficult to see him potentially in a different uniform. The Dodgers seem to have endless patience with Martin, as his offensive production has steadily declined since his All-Star season.
The catcher is a fan favorite and workhorse in the clubhouse. He also features solid fielding behind the plate and a strong arm. Martin has decent speed for a catcher, and the converted third baseman still shows great potential despite his recent struggles.
There will be some options on the market before 2011, but the Dodgers will likely retain Martin and offer him arbitration. Los Angeles' concerns are greater in other positions, so getting Martin off arbitration will be the secure and comfortable move for the Blue Crew.
Vicente Padilla, SP
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Yet another starting pitcher on the Dodgers' roster that will become a free agent after 2010, Vicente Padilla has been stable in his career in Los Angeles. The pitch dubbed the "Soap Bubble" by legendary broadcaster Vin Scully has shut down hitters since its debut.
Padilla's career seems to be revitalized. Following his designation for assignment by the Texas Rangers in August of 2009, Padilla has been a spark plug in the rotation, but his repeated arm injuries are an area of concern.
The Dodgers would do well to retain him, but he will not be cheap. He currently makes $4.25M with a differed $1M signing bonus, and will look for a similar figure next year. A one-year contract seems likely for Padilla, as injuries don't warrant long-term confidence.
A handful of American League teams will be after Padilla, as will the Dodgers' division rivals, the Giants and Rockies. Look for Padilla to stay in Dodger Blue for next season, but a one-year contract with a club option for 2012 seems like the practical move for both sides.
George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Octavio Dotel, RPs
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Following veteran reliever George Sherrill's arrival in Los Angeles from the Baltimore Orioles, the expectations were high. Sherrill performed like an effective reliever in the American League, and immediately following his arrival in the National League. However, he has been unable to conquer a mechanical flaw in his delivery, and the Dodgers have all but lost faith in him.
Situational lefties are a valuable asset in any bullpen, but Hong-Chih Kuo will also be a free agent at the end of the season, and it appears the Dodgers will aggressively pursue an extension with him. Kuo is simply more dominant and reliable at this stage in his career and Sherrill's $5 million price tag will be too high.
It is likely Sherrill will have to settle for a smaller contract, laden with incentives and bonuses. The lefty will have something to prove next season, and will audition for other teams in the spring. Look for him to find a team, perhaps back in the American League, with a small contract and large potential.
Octavio Dotel could quite possibly remain a Dodger and assume the closer role. Jonathan Broxton is still under contract, but has proven repeatedly that some polishing is necessary. Veteran bats are catching up to his fastball, which seems to have lost velocity in recent days.
With Broxton transitioning into the setup role in short relief, Dotel can come in to close out games. Dotel has 105 career saves, and experience talks. Dotel would be a valuable addition in the 'pen, and his $4.5 million club option for next season should be picked up.
Chad Billingsley, SP
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If not for Billingsley, the Dodgers may already have several key offensive additions. It seems as though every time the Los Angeles has the chance to get offensive help, they pass because the team offering the help requests Billingsley in return.
Clearly the Tinsel Town elite see him as the future of the rotation, but many just don't see it yet.
Billingsley historically struggles with control problems, and is pitching from the stretch like a yoga instructor warms up before class.
Still, the 26-year-old starter throws hard and has shown streaks of dominance. He is a bargain at $3.85 million and will again be a bargain in arbitration. The Dodgers will likely hold on to him as well, and offer him in the neighborhood of $7-10 million for next season.
Potential outsiders include the Diamondbacks, Giants, and Mariners, but Billingsley will probably be back in Los Angeles next season.
Ryan Theriot, 2B
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It would be nice for the name in the starting lineup to be the same for a while at second base.
Orlando Hudson was supposed to be the answer, but his performance dipped at the end of 2009, and Ronnie Belliard couldn't earn the starting position over the now-departed Blake DeWitt.
Theriot is a solid fielder, showing decent range in his brief time in Dodgertown. Theriot is another workhorse with the ability to be in the top of the lineup on a daily basis. He may not be an A-list name at second base, but he's a veteran with the means to hang around for a while.
The veteran is making $2.6 million this season and will likely make around the same next year. Theriot lost his arbitration case with the Chicago Cubs this season when requesting nearly $3.4 million, so the price tag fits for next season if he's under $3 million.
A reunion with Mike Fontenot in San Francisco is unlikely, as the Giants have a solid second baseman in Freddy Sanchez.
Look for Theriot to stay on for a one-year deal worth roughly $3M and having a few incentives attached.
Scott Podsednik and Reed Johnson, OFs
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Reed Johnson has made his $800k contract too expensive, spending too much time on the bench with a recurring back injury stemming from surgery.
Scott Podsednik comes over from the Kansas City Royals, and fans can believe the taste of a winning team is fresh on the outfielder's tongue. He has a club option for 2011 valued at $2 million with a buyout of only $100k. It would seem appealing to the Dodgers to cut him loose with that low severance fee, but his small option is also enticing.
Podsednik would make a great fourth outfielder and might even find his way into the starting lineup on occasion. His speed and outfield range make him an attractive option for the Dodgers and many other teams.
The journeyman outfielder is certainly no stranger to finding new homes, but this time, he just may stay put. The Dodgers were caught between attempting a playoff run and acquiring players for the future at the July 31 deadline.
However, with the Dodgers seemingly out of the running, the focus has shifted to next season, and Podsednik may fit into the Dodgers' plans for the future.
Brad Ausmus, Ronnie Belliard, Jeff Weaver, Jay Gibbons, and Jamey Carroll
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Brad Ausmus is headed for retirement. Missing most of the season with back problems has all but destroyed his name in the upcoming free-agent pool. Ausmus has had a great career. His years with the Astros are certainly worth noting, and his off-the-field character is honorable. His veteran leadership makes him a perfect candidate to remain around the league in a coaching position.
Ronnie Belliard will once again be fighting for his job in the spring. He may be a non-roster invitee to Spring Training in February. If the Dodgers find a bargain infielder before then, it is not likely Belliard will have a spot on the roster next season.
Having Belliard to fill in for Orlando Hudson was a blessing in disguise for the Dodgers, who had low expectations to begin with. The hefty infielder came over to the Dodgers as an after-deadline pickup and provided a spark for the Dodgers when they needed it most. However, Belliard has seen a steady decline in playing time, and the re-signing of Theriot may be his Dodgers undoing.
Jamey Carroll is still under contract for one more season, so the utility role in the middle infield is locked in.
If Jeff Weaver isn't a Dodger next season, it is difficult to say what uniform he'll be wearing. Weaver is an innings-eater and a versatile pitcher with the ability to make spot starts. He can throw from different arm angles and, when healthy, is highly effective. Weaver won't have a high-paying contract next season, so he won't be a huge risk for the Dodgers in 2011.
Jay Gibbons will probably be fighting for a roster spot with a team next season. His spring will determine where he plays next year, but he has been a welcome addition to the bench for Los Angeles. His contract expectations are low, and if he can return to his Baltimore Orioles form, he will be a bargain for any team.
(For more information on the Dodgers free agents, check out: L.A. Dodgers Waiver Toward Future)