09/02/10 6:23 PM ET
Elusive big bat key to big Dodgers offseason
Club hopes to address inconsistency in middle of lineup
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
"We need to be more productive in the middle of the lineup," manager Joe Torre said after his club's loss Wednesday, although it's been a familiar refrain most of the season.
Matt Kemp's season-long inconsistency and Andre Ethier's struggles since returning from a broken finger underscore the Dodgers' need for the kind of bat Manny Ramirez provided for a couple of months a couple of years ago.
And while there's nobody in the farm system qualified to make that kind of impact in the near future, neither have the Dodgers been successful trying to buy one.
Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn and former Dodgers Jayson Werth, Paul Konerko and maybe Adrian Beltre (player option) figure to be among the most potent hitters on the free-agent market and likely to command the type of rich contracts the Dodgers have shied away from. History shows that the more money Los Angeles spends on players, the greater the failure rate, a trend established long before Ned Colletti became general manager.
Since 1999, when Kevin Malone gave Kevin Brown $105 million, the Dodgers have spent $1 billion in multi-year contracts without a World Series appearance. This week's unceremonious ending to the Manny era is another reminder of what can happen when a player, especially an aging one, is rewarded for past success with future riches.
And the Dodgers will be reminded for another three years. Because much of the contract was deferred, Ramirez will be receiving $25 million over the next three seasons from L.A. while he's playing somewhere else, if at all.
Ramirez is only the sixth-highest financial commitment the Dodgers have made in recent years -- Brown, $105 million; Shawn Green, $85 million; Darren Dreifort, $55 million; J.D. Drew, $55 million (the Dodgers paid $22 million of it); Jason Schmidt, $47 million; Ramirez, $45 million (the Dodgers paid $33 million of it). Rounding out the top 10 are Juan Pierre, $44 million; Rafael Furcal, $39 million; Andruw Jones, $36.2 million; and Derek Lowe, $36 million.
Of those 10, three (Brown, Green and Pierre) were traded during the term of the contract, two (Dreifort and Schmidt) were physically unable to perform and retired when the contract was up, Drew voided his contract early, Jones was released, Ramirez was claimed off waivers, Lowe left as a free agent and Furcal was re-signed.
As bad as that looks, it could have been worse. Just last winter, the Dodgers passed on Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets, Joel Pineiro, John Lackey, Braden Looper and Chien-Ming Wang, among others.
Colletti has already agreed that a big bat is a high priority this winter, and he's probably more likely to land one via trade than free agency, but he also needs a starting catcher (Russell Martin was a question mark even before breaking his hip) and possibly a third baseman (Casey Blake is 37 and might be eased into a bench role).
Then there's the pitching staff. Counting Vicente Padilla, who will return from the disabled list next week, three of the five starters -- Padilla, Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda -- will be free agents, and Colletti said he will try to keep all of them, depending on contract demands.
Lilly, who has duplicated Padilla's impact of a year ago, figures to have the most robust market. Statistically, he's a mirror image of Wolf, who landed a three-year, $29 million contract from Milwaukee when the Dodgers passed last winter.
Kuroda's salary this year is $13 million. The belief is that he'd rather stay in the Major Leagues than return to Japan, but if it's with the Dodgers, he'll be looking at a big pay cut.
Padilla has pitched well when he's pitched, but he's also had two stints on the DL.
Through 11 upcoming free agents and the $8 million the Dodgers actually paid Ramirez this year, the Dodgers have a possible $38 million coming off the payroll. Of course, those players would need to be replaced. The free agents: Kuroda, Padilla, Lilly, Jeff Weaver, Brad Ausmus, Scott Podsednik, Ronnie Belliard, Reed Johnson, Octavio Dotel, Jay Gibbons and Rod Barajas.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.