Sometimes when making an effort to rebuild a team, many general managers make the mistake of choosing the best player available on the market rather than addressing one particular area where the squad is weak.
Instead of paying millions for a superstar, then trying to find out how or where a certain player will mesh with the team, the good general managers will first break down the specific needs of the club and make a checklist, then when considering any new additions, they check to make sure that each prospective player meet the required criteria.
Such should be the case with the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason.
Many people, including Los Angeles General Manager Ned Colletti, continue to refer to the Dodgers' "core" talent of players. There's no question that a core of talent does indeed exist, but there are a few tweaks that are required and several areas that need to be addressed before the Dodgers can once again become contenders.
Seemingly, money will be the biggest question mark for Los Angeles when assembling a roster and preparing for next season. However, several experts, including Tony Jackson of ESPN Los Angeles, believe that owner Frank McCourt will do all that he can to push the team payroll up to the $100 million range.
After all, the Dodger fan faithful is the driving force of the franchise, and if the fans aren't happy, then the seats aren't filled at Dodger Stadium, and the team doesn't generate dollars. Without question, after everything the McCourts have put the organization through, Frank should be on the ground kneeling to his own employees and the fans in an effort to assure them that he will do his best to put the Dodgers back on the right track.
This includes spending money on several high-quality big market players, and not your everyday 10-year veteran who is lurking in the bargain basement. Whether it be through free agency or trades, there isn't any reason that Los Angeles shouldn't at least improve from the 2010 season if careful moves are made.
Yet before even targeting a specific player, Colletti should make a list of specific needs, prioritize them, then decide which available players on the market fulfill the requirements he chose to list.
The following slides show five specific areas that Colletti should consider when putting together the Los Angeles Dodgers roster this winter.
Undoubtedly, the Dodgers need to add at least one power bat, if not more, to consider themselves contenders in the National League West next season.
But here's where Colletti needs to be careful, and why the checklist will come in handy.
Anyone familiar with the team will say the Dodgers need a new left fielder, and that the outfielder should have a power bat. Yet when considering the caliber of left fielders on the free agent market, there's nothing even close to a player who could benefit Los Angeles in the power department.
Among the possible left field free agents this offseason are Pat Burrell of the San Francisco Giants, Jason Kubel of the Minnesota Twins, Austin Kearns of the New York Yankees, and Jonny Gomes of the Cincinnati Reds—none of which seem to be an upgrade over Jay Gibbons or Xavier Paul.
However, the Dodgers could pursue right fielder Jayson Werth of the Philadelphia Phillies and move Andre Ethier back to his natural position in left, or even throw a number at Carl Crawford of the Tampa Bay Rays and look to add power at other positions. Granted, both Crawford and Werth may be completely unaffordable, but if the only major move Colletti makes is signing one of those two players, it just may be enough, barring injury.
Still, the Dodgers could look to add power at the infield corner spots, and Adam Dunn of the Washington Nationals and Adrian Beltre of the Boston Red Sox stand out the most. Dunn has hit 35 or more home runs in each of the last eight seasons and is expected to ink a multi-year deal worth at least $12 million annually. Beltre, who still has a player option with Boston in 2011, is more of a versatile hitter yet is very capable defensively. If Beltre walks, he's expected to be seeking more than $13 million annually.
And, according to the rumor mill, Beltre would consider returning to Los Angeles if the price is right.
If Frank McCourt does indeed have the capability to spend, the options are endless—it just may require moving around a few players.
Probably the closest thing the Dodgers had to a true team leader on the field this year was veteran third baseman Casey Blake, and not having a bonafide leader could very well have been a big difference in 2010.
Orlando Hudson, Jim Thome, Randy Wolf, Doug Mientkiewicz and even Mark Loretta, who were all part of the Dodgers squad that competed in the NLCS in 2009 and who were very well respected by their teammates, never made it back to Los Angeles this year—for various reasons.
The group mentioned above demonstrated their leadership qualities both on and off the diamond. All five were very active in community service and numerous charities, and set the standard as to how other players should carry themselves when off the field, while their work ethics at the ballpark were exemplary.
There's no question that right fielder Andre Ethier is developing leadership qualities, but he's still considered relatively young when looking at the ages of the other players on the roster. Ethier's time to guide the team will arrive eventually, but until it does, he'll need to lead by example.
Colletti will need to round up one or two veterans to mentor the youth and set examples for the rest of the team—and players like Reed Johnson, Ramon Ortiz, Garret Anderson, or Russ Ortiz won't cut it. Although a player in a leadership role may not play everyday, the quality is usually worth spending the extra dollar.
Orlando Hudson will more than likely be a free agent this winter, and a $7 million salary could be affordable for the Dodgers, although chances of Hudson wanting to return to Los Angeles are next to none.
Although the excitement factor won't necessarily win a team games, it will certainly pack the stands. Mannywood ran its course and is now dust in the wind, yet the fans need electricity—a new spark to grasp onto, and a solution to get the dollars flowing once again.
Yu Darvish of Japan could very well provide that spark.
Darvish is, without a doubt, the most prized possession in the Pacific League at the moment. At only 24 years of age, Darvish is considered the best pitcher in all of Japan, and his statistics are nothing short of mind-boggling.
In his first three seasons as a starting pitcher with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Darvish is 46-14 with an incredible 1.81 ERA. In 74 games started, he has 30 complete games to his credit, with seven of those being shutouts. His WHIP (walks+hits per inning pitched) last year was .896, and his average WHIP for three seasons is a phenomenal .872.
The Dodgers scouted Darvish extensively prior to the 2004 draft, but he was only 18 at the time, and decided to make a name for himself in Japan. There are rumblings that Darvish may consider playing in the Majors in 2011, and the Red Sox are early favorites to sign him, since he has family ties in the city of Boston. Still the Dodgers have a very strong stance in the Pacific League, and could very well be frontrunners if Darvish decides to play in the Majors.
Darvish is currently making 330 million yen annually, which converts to just over four million US dollars. It's speculated that a contract of $7-8 million a year could be enough to persuade Darvish to relocate to the United States.
His fastball normally sits in the 92-95 MPH range, and tops out at about 97 MPH. His arsenal of pitches also includes a wicked cutter known as a shuuto, a curveball, a three-quarters change-up, and a nasty splitter.
Just two weeks removed from the end of the 2010 regular season, the Dodgers pitching staff is already beginning to take form.
Last Saturday, Los Angeles agreed to terms with lefty starter Ted Lilly. The deal was made for three years, and although the value of the contract has not yet been disclosed, the best guess is Lilly will be receiving somewhere around $10-13 million annually.
A $30 million plus contract sounds like it hits the club hard in the pocketbook, however Ned Colletti and Frank McCourt are known for back-loading deals or offering deferred cash to help offset any immediate heavy spending.
Still, with Lilly on board, along with Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have two starting pitching slots open. It's anticipated that both Hiroki Kuroda and Vicente Padilla will file for free agency, yet it's unknown if Los Angeles will even offer arbitration to either starter.
How Ned Colletti fills in the blanks will require some very careful deliberations, but he can't go wrong with velocity. Lilly normally settles in in the mid-to-upper 80s, while Billingsley and Kershaw usually have their fastballs clock in the low to mid-90s. It only makes sense to have at least one starter who can bring some significant heat.
Both Padilla and Kuroda can still top out at 96 MPH, and both have a generous amount of variations to compliment their heaters. Kuroda is about as durable as they come, yet Padilla has been marred by injuries recently and hasn't started 30 games in a season since 2006.
Because the Dodgers signed Lilly, it very well could have an effect on how much money is offered to Kuroda, if he is offered arbitration at all. Kuroda earned $13 million in 2010. The best option may be to offer Padilla a lower base salary, laden with incentives for a minimum of games started or innings pitched.
Outside of Cliff Lee, there's really not much to write home about the free agent starting pitchers, much less fireballers. And at the same time, outside of John Ely and Carlos Monasterios, there's nobody even close (including in the minor leagues) who has the ability to start a quality game. Since the free agent market is so thin, it may require the Dodgers to deal.
Which brings us to...
Without question, Clayton Kershaw will be the ace of the Dodgers pitching staff—it could happen as early as next season, or it could happen in 2012. But the truth is, without a true ace, or at least someone else as capable as Kershaw, the Dodgers chances of making the postseason are relatively slim.
Think about all four teams currently battling in the playoffs right now, then imagine if Clayton Kershaw was the best available starter on any of those four teams—there's no chance that squad would even be competing in the playoffs. Sure, each squad is constructed differently, but the 2010 playoffs prove to an extent that MLB is quickly turning into a pitcher's league.
On any other team, Kershaw would be a solid number two and Billingsley would probably fit in as a third or fourth starter—at this point in their careers, at least.
It's not impossible, but it's highly improbable for a squad to contend for a championship without a true ace. This is where the Dodgers fell short in 2009.
Since the free agent market for starting pitchers may not be worth exploring, that doesn't rule out the possibility of a trade, and one of the first names that captures attention is Kansas City Royals righty Zack Greinke. There's no doubt that the Royals will move Greinke despite having another year on his contract, as KC recently informed the righty that he had until the end of the World Series to let them know the teams on his no trade list.
Grenke's salary for 2011 will be just over $13.5 million, which is almost identical to what the Dodgers paid Kuroda in 2010. Some may not consider Greinke an ace, but he would certainly rank above most number twos anywhere in the Majors, and could easily provide the boost the Dodgers need.
With Greinke, the Dodgers get a starter who is eight years younger than Kuroda, a Cy Young Award winner and a former All-Star. Outside of a few problems in 2006 and early in 2007, Greinke has been very durable. During the past three seasons Greinke has proved his endurance by recording at least 200 innings pitched.
Of course, the Royals will be asking for the world in return for Greinke, and of course the Dodgers will need to make a few sacrifices. Depending on how the script plays out this winter, and which gaps the Dodgers fill in first, a Greinke deal isn't out of the question.
Finally, a great deal hinges on the impending decision from Judge Scott Gordon, and if Frank McCourt is able to see any daylight at all, his best interests are to not hold anything back and do everything within his power to at least make the Dodgers playoff contenders. Besides having to appease the Dodger faithful, McCourt may be in a position to prove to Commissioner Bud Selig and all the team owners that he is worthy of owning a Major League Baseball team.