The MLB winter meetings will take place this week in Florida, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have a lot of work to do. Despite a flurry of moves that brought Juan Uribe, Jon Garland and Rod Barajas to LA, the Dodgers have holes to fill in left field and in the bullpen.
They also need to address the somewhat unsteady production they got from first baseman James Loney and center fielder Matt Kemp in 2010.
General manager Ned Colletti has plenty to do, as the Dodgers are still not ready to usurp the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants yet. The team's ability to challenge San Francisco and Colorado for NL West supremacy may hinge on how well Colletti does this week.
Read on for five moves the Dodgers need to make, or at least explore, in order to become favorites in the West in 2011.
Unless the organization sees Jay Gibbons as a long-term answer in left, the team still needs a strong hitter who can play left field to finish their outfield puzzle. Johnny Damon is one smart possibility, though he might struggle to stay healthy while playing the field every day.
Damon, 37, remains a capable hitter and managed a solid .271/.355/.401 with the Tigers last season. He played only 37 games in the outfield, but acquitted himself better in left field than he has in years. He is no sure bet, but Damon would fit another key Dodgers need—a competent, consistent hitter in the second slot in the lineup—perfectly.
Other options remain available, but not many of them give the team the boost it needs in the lineup.
The Dodgers made no secret early in the offseason about Loney's availability, especially if it could have helped them land a back-end starting pitcher or a middle infielder.
Now, though, the consensus seems to be that Loney is off the block, since it would cost too much to replace him on the open market. Perhaps Jayson Werth's unexpected mega-deal with the Nationals fed into that conclusion on the part of Colletti and staff.
Loney looked like a star in the making from the time he came up in 2006 until 2010, when it became clear that the fruit of his promise was (at least to a certain extent) rotting on the vine. He batted only .267/.329/.395 this season, an acceptable but not exciting line for even a middle infielder or catcher. For Loney, a first baseman with good-not-great defensive skills, those numbers are utterly beyond the pale of utility.
Paul Konerko remains a free agent, and has made it clear he would love to be close to his Arizona home. Maybe the Dodgers could get him at a discounted rate after trading Loney.
When a team non-tenders one of its players, thereby making him a free agent, it need not be the end of the two sides' relationship—just ask Jack Cust and the Oakland Athletics. In the case of catcher Russell Martin, though, the odds seem stacked against a return to LA.
Yet, the Dodgers do not seem entirely satisfied with Barajas, whom they acquired midseason and re-signed last week.
Replacing Martin will not be as easy as it may appear: He struggled to a .248/.347/.332 line this season, but his fielding (and the general weak sticks of catchers everywhere) made him a solid value nonetheless. When Martin is healthy, he is a solid backstop. He will draw interest from a number of teams this week.
Gerald Laird and Dioner Navarro highlight the rest of the free-agent class at catcher, so Martin and the Dodgers might start to look very good to one another before the week is out.
Entering the offseason, many wondered whether the Dodgers would be able to move fast enough to retain either Ted Lilly or Hiroki Kuroda. Within two weeks of the end of the World Series, they had secured both men. Alongside Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw, the team thus had a strong core of starting options for 2011.
To that group, the team quickly added Jon Garland, making five seasoned big-league hurlers who will all be ready for action next spring. Still, this group has battled injury in the past, so Colletti has hinted at a desire for one or more additional starters to insure the rotation against implosion.
Vicente Padilla, who logged a 4.07 ERA and 3.5 strikeouts per walk in 95 innings with the Dodgers last season, could certainly come back for 2011 and be that extra arm. The team also may be content to let John Ely and Carlos Monasterios fill that role now that their top five is in place.
Overall, this Dodgers team is coming together nicely. The signing of Uribe not only gave the team an upgrade at second base, it also moved Jamey Carroll permanently to the bench (strengthening that group) and gave the franchise the flexibility to trade Ryan Theriot to St. Louis for reliever Blake Hawksworth (helping out the bullpen).
Still, after non-tendering George Sherrill last week, the Dodgers need a bit more depth in relief. Ron Mahay and/or Hideki Okajima are viable options, as is Sherrill himself, but Los Angeles may ultimately decide to try and trade for a stronger potential set-up man to place alongside Hong-Chih Kuo in the 2011 'pen.