Among his dozens of cluttered notepads and hundreds of files containing scouting reports of players across Major League Baseball, Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has the beginnings of an Opening Day roster plan stirring in the back of his mind.
Since the moment Colletti and team owner Frank McCourt announced a potential increased payroll budget for 2011, fans throughout Dodgertown have been imagining both the best and worst possible scenarios for the upcoming season.
Names such as Cliff Lee, Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, Victor Martinez and Jayson Werth have been the talk of Tinseltown, yet with several minor tweaks and a few key additions, the Dodgers may not need to break the bank or sell the farm to once again emerge as contenders in the NL West.
On paper, the Boys in Blue weren't as bad as their 2010 record suggested. However, problems with ownership, hostility within the coaching staff, and turmoil in the clubhouse created a negative chemistry which led to one of the more disappointing seasons in recent Dodgers history.
Colletti and new Los Angeles skipper Don Mattingly have been carefully assembling a coaching staff with all of the team's best interests in mind, and with the proper bonding and a bit of luck, the Dodgers may create the exact type of locker room atmosphere which the squad desperately needs.
Of course, there are literally thousands of roster possibilities for next year, and a number of MLB experts and analysts are already tossing around names of players who may be taking the field at Chavez Ravine on Opening Day.
The following slides highlight seven bold predictions for the Dodgers' Opening Day squad, offer a brief commentary for each and suggest a starting lineup against the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants on April 1.
James Loney may be one of the Dodgers' most valuable bargaining chips on the trade market, however in the end Dodgers management will continue to give him the opportunity to develop his power numbers for at least one more season.
Considering all of the possible slugging upgrades at the first base spot, the Los Angeles brain trust will realize that solid defense trumps all other factors and offer Loney a contract attractive enough to keep him in Dodger Blue for the immediate future.
New batting coach Jeff Pentland will provide Loney with a fresh approach at the dish, and with the proper instruction and a bit of luck, James will finally mature into the hitter who many in Los Angeles have been hoping for for quite some time.
Manager Don Mattingly will still be available to help nurture Loney's defensive skills, and with several capable and respectable hitters surrounding him in the batting order, Loney will continue to be one of several productive forces for the Dodgers.
Nevertheless, Loney will indeed be informed that 2011 may be his final chance to live up to expectations offensively.
Jay Gibbons, who recently signed a one-year deal to stay in Los Angeles, provides more than enough capability to cover for Loney when required.
Despite not having pitched in almost two full seasons, Brandon Webb is still known for his ferocious sinker ball, and if his mechanics of old can be rediscovered, he may prove to be very effective in 2011.
Webb will not be asking for a long-term deal, which may fit into the Dodgers temporary plans perfectly. With an expected salary of $5-6 million for a one-year contract, Los Angeles will fill a hole in the rotation until several of the highly coveted arms in the farm system are ready for the Show.
Webb's resume is as good as any in the game, and if he has the ability to fully recover from shoulder surgery, has the potential to be the biggest steal of the free-agent market.
He claimed the National League Cy Young Award in 2006 and led the NL in total wins for both the 2006 and 2008 seasons. Webb also led the National League with more than 236 innings pitched in 2007 and adds three All-Star appearances to his credentials.
Speculating that he is completely healthy heading into 2011, he would fit in nicely as a No. 4 starter sandwiched between Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Vicente Padilla—assuming Hiroki Kuroda walks.
The Dodgers could also explore signing lefty Hisanori Takahashi on the cheap for spot starts and middle relief, or utilize right-hander Carlos Monasterios similar to his 2010 role.
Many believe that being overused the past four years has led to Russell Martin's deterioration. During his signature season in 2007, Martin hit .293 with 19 home runs and 87 RBI, and earned a Silver Slugger award as well as a trip to the All-Star Game.
He hasn't been remotely close to those numbers since. Before injuring his hip this year, Martin appeared in 97 games for the Dodgers and batted .248 with five HRs and 26 RBI. In a full year in 2009, he posted a .250 average with seven home runs and 53 runs batted in while playing in 143 games.
Martin earned just over $5 million in 2010, and many speculate that the Dodgers may non-tender him instead of offering arbitration. However, the investment is way too large in the end and Los Angeles may more than likely offer him a deal rather than letting the former All-Star walk away and receiving nothing in return.
Nonetheless, Martin would be on a short leash, and his new contract would be for less dollars yet laden with incentives solely based on production.
Rod Barajas will be signed to allow Martin rest when required, and A.J. Ellis will be retained by Triple-A Albuquerque to help groom the younger catchers in the farm system.
After an excellent first half and earning the save at the 2010 All-Star Game, Jonathan Broxton completely fell apart during the second half of the season.
Over the course of this year, Broxton had seven blown saves and his ERA of 4.04 is almost 1.5 runs per game higher than what he finished with in 2009.
Heading into the offseason, manager Don Mattingly emphasized his continued faith in Broxton for 2011, and with a few minor adjustments in his focus and mechanics, chances are good that he would return to his form of old as being one of the top closers in the game.
It almost makes complete sense to retain Broxton for his final contract year. If moved right now while his value is seemingly low, Los Angeles would reduce its chances of getting a reasonable return. Effective relievers are still highly coveted commodities across the league, and from a business standpoint the Dodgers would benefit by giving Broxton another chance to show his skills.
With Kenley Jansen emerging as one of the team's top relievers and Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo waiting in the wings, the Dodgers should still have plenty of firepower in the bullpen should Broxton falter along the way.
Tampa Bay Rays general manager Andrew Friedman has already said more than once that he would consider moving center fielder B.J. Upton in an effort to get younger, better players and free-up payroll, even though Upton is still only 26 years of age and is expected to carry a relatively inexpensive salary.
Upton won't come without sacrifice, however. The Dodgers may need to offer a top-level prospect such as Jerry Sands, and a speedy outfielder like Brian Cavazos-Galvez to make the deal happen.
By moving Sands, Los Angeles makes a statement that Loney is indeed the Dodgers first baseman of the future, and by acquiring Upton it allows All-Star Andre Ethier to move back to his natural position in left field, and Matt Kemp to play more to his strengths in right.
Despite his numbers being down from from his career averages, Upton's stats from last season still bring added versatility to the Los Angeles outfield. He belted 18 home runs, 38 doubles and drove in 62 runners while stealing 42 bases and scoring 89 runs.
With Upton, the Dodgers get another right-handed batter in the outfield yet will still have lefties Xavier Paul and Jay Gibbons on the bench either to cover or be utilized in certain pitching match-ups.
Most Dodgers fans shiver at the though of mentioning the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, but the truth is Juan Uribe may be the best value at second base when considering the Dodgers' needs and budget.
And to put it bluntly, despite his grittiness, Ryan Theriot doesn't have what it takes to help propel the Dodgers to the next level.
There's no question the Giants will attempt to re-sign Uribe, but because his salary was just over $3 million in 2010, Uribe will become a free agent and seek more cash above the amount San Francisco will offer initially.
With Uribe, the Dodgers get both a reliable glove and a versatile bat. Uribe's stats show that when used regularly he easily has the capability of hitting at least 20 home runs and driving in 80 runs.
Uribe also has the ability to cover at shortstop and third base, and at only 31 years of age, still has enough gas in the tank to be an everyday player.
With Casey Blake's playing time expected to be reduced a great deal, Uribe could be utilized to cover the hot corner, while Jamey Carroll has the ability to fill in admirably at second when needed.
When considering all of the roster moves mentioned in the previous slides, the Dodgers should have no problem paying Uribe $5-6 million if his demands reach those levels.
Although general manager Ned Colletti hasn't expressed his intentions in signing Davey Lopes to coach first base for the Dodgers, the move will indeed be made, as folks across Dodgertown are truly grateful that such an opportunity has fallen into their laps.
Whatever drew him away from the City of Brotherly Love is now irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is that Lopes was very instrumental in the Philadelphia Phillies' two most recent trips to the World Series. The Dodgers are craving that exact type of leadership to guide them to the next level.
Lopes has already expressed to the media his desire to return to Los Angeles, and as soon as salary negotiations are agreed upon, an announcement should follow shortly thereafter.
Lopes began his career with the Dodgers in 1972 and spent 10 seasons playing in Los Angeles. His return to Hollywood would surely spark adrenaline from both the fan base and players within the organization.
Although his salary demands may be a bit lofty, the reasonably cheap yet sensible moves shown in the previous slides suggest that the Dodgers should be able to afford Lopes' services.
With his potential to unleash the true capabilities of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and James Loney, an expensive salary may very well be worth every single dime.
As mentioned previously, there are endless possibilities for the 2011 roster, yet based on the previous slides, here's one version of a lineup that manager Don Mattingly may submit to the umpire on opening day:
1. B.J. Upton—CF
2. Rafael Furcal—SS
3. Andre Ethier—LF
4. Matt Kemp—RF
5. James Loney—1B
6. Juan Uribe—2B
7. Casey Blake—3B
8. Russell Martin—C
Starting rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Brandon Webb, Vicente Padilla
Bullpen: Hisanori Takahashi, Carlos Monasterios, Travis Schlichting, Ronald Belasario, Kenley Jansen, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jonathan Broxton
Bench Players: Jay Gibbons, Xavier Paul, Jamey Carroll, Rod Barajas, Ivan DeJesus
Key additions: Upton, Uribe, Webb, Takahashi
Notable departures: Ryan Theriot, Hiroki Kuroda, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso, Reed Johnson