Wednesday, December 2, 2009

2010 Team Analysis: Los Angeles Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers:

2009 record: 95-67

General Manager: Ned Colletti

Manager: Joe Torre

Organizational Philosophy: The Ned Colletti era still moves forward with he and the Dodgers coming to terms to a long-term deal last month. Among baseball circles a lot of debate has sprung up on who exactly in the front office (or used to be in the front office) is responsible for the Dodgers recent success. Recent reports have stated that the Dodgers will avoid pursuing any long term free agents due to the lagging economy (although I’m more inclined to believe this is the reason). Spending restrictions or not, Colletti has never been shy of trading away promising prospects for established veterans and with glaring holes in next season’s starting rotation I would expect Colletti to be busy this off season.

2010 Committments:

Starting Rotation:

Chad Billingsly ($475K; arb eligible)
Clayton Kershaw ($400K)
Huroki Kuroda ($15M)
James McDonald ($400K)

Signing Angels free agent John Lackey seems to be obvious especially for a team in need of a top of the rotation starting pitcher. Finding a bonafide #1 starter should be at the top of the Dodgers priority list especially with Chad Billingsly’s late struggles and Clayton Kershaw’s excessive inning load in 2009. If the Dodgers are truly on a budget, this year’s crop of pitching free agents have a lot of high-risk, high reward such as Rich Harden, Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard. All three have the ability to pitch like #1 starters but health has been an issue which should make them affordable to a number of teams due to the one year contracts they will likely receive.

Free agent Randy Wolf put together a decent season of 200+ innings of work based on the 1 year contract he signed last off season. Wolf is expected to ask for a lot more (more in line of what he was asking last off season before becoming pegged as a casualty of a dwindling economy). I don’t expect the Dodgers to offer Wolf a long term contract but it would be wise to offer him arbitration which would, unfortunately, put a wrinkle in the plans of any other team looking to sign the 33 year old due to the signing team having to forgo future draft picks.

The Dodgers have made no secret they would like to re-sign Vicente Padilla based on his brief success with the team but catching a literal bullet in his thigh last week in Nicaragua along with his long history of overstaying his welcome will have the Dodgers second-guessing this strategy. The shooting was said to be not serious and with no mention of foul-play I expect the Dodgers to resume talks with Padilla sometime this winter. Padilla will be 32 years old next season and is a serviceable back of the rotation groundball pitcher. His reputation will serve to keep his price down in this current market but it will be interesting if Padilla accepts a pay cut from last season’s $12 million. The Dodgers would be wise to wait and see who else would be inquiring Padilla’s services (the Brewers and Mets are obvious suitors) and if they can dictate his price and get it below eight figures annually.

RHP Jon Garland had his mutual option of $10 M rejected by the Dodgers earlier this month. The team is interested in retaining Garland but the situation may depend on how talks progress with Padilla.

LHP Eric Milton pitched well before going down in July with back trouble. He signed a minor league contract last off season for $500K and looked like a bargain as an above-average fifth starter. The Dodgers may do well by inquiring on his services again this off season.

A popular bit of speculation has the Dodgers offering Chad Billingsly to any team interested in his services. I’m sure Billingsly (like any major league player) can be had for the right trade but GM Colletti’s refusal to include him in a package for Roy Halladay makes me question how “available” Billingsly really is.

In the bullpen they have commitments to Jonathon Broxton ($1.8M; arb eligible), George Sherrill ($2.75M; arb eligible), Ramon Troncoso ($400K), Hong-Chih Kuo ($430K; arb eligible), and Scott Elbert ($400K).

This has been an incredibly young and efficient bullpen for the Dodgers both Broxton and Sherrill should see a pay raise during off season arb and the presence of quality lefties in Sherrill, Kuo and Elbert make Will Ohman a $200K buyout no-brainer this off season. Free agents Charlie Haeger and Ronald Belisario both signed one-year minor league contracts last off season. Retaining them would be beneficial. Trading Sherrill this off season to a team in need of bullpen help may be a wise move.

On the field:

C: Russ Martin ($3.9M; arb eligible)
1B: James Loney ($465K; arb eligible)
2B: Blake DeWitt ($405K)
2B: Ivan DeJesus Jr. ($400K)
SS: Rafeal Furcal ($9.5M)
SS: Chin-Lung Hu ($400K)
3B: Casey Blake ($6M)
LF: Manny Ramirez ($20M)
CF: Matt Kemp ($467K; arb eligible)
RF: Andre Ethier ($3.1M; arb eligible)

In 2010 both Orlando Hudson and Ronnie Belliard go up for free agency while Tony Abreu is finally shipped off to Arizona to complete the John Garland trade leaves 21 year old Ivan DeJesus Jr. (who lost the entire ’09 season to a broken leg) and Blake DeWitt as the only committed Dodger 2B’s for 2010. Hudson is a Type A free agent and based on how the club handled him down the stretch I don’t see either side coming to terms in the offseason; however, the Dodgers would be wise to offer him arb thus gaining a comp. pick in the next amateur draft. Now given Ned Colletti’s penchant to go older I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dodgers go with their obvious option and sign new Joe Torre favorite Ronnie Belliard for another season and an option for year two.

If talks with the 35 year old Belliard stall then I would expect the Dodgers to inquire about the availability of Dan Uggla or look to sign Placido Polanco or Felipe Lopez. If Ned Colletti has his way he could be tempted to overpay for Juan Uribe’s services. In 2009, Uribe swatted a decent line of .294/.336/.496 in 119 games for the rival Giants. Looking at the numbers, Uribe was extremely lucky this season with a .337 BABIP (which inflated his BA from the usual .230-.250 to .290) and a fluky HR/FB rate of 12.6%, coupled with an overall decrease in FB%, is sure to cause his HR numbers to come back down to earth next season. He may ask for a four year deal worth $40M, which would be a huge raise from the 1M he made in ’09; any team that offers him more than 3yrs/$10M is asking for trouble.

C Brad Ausmus also files for free agency leaving AJ Ellis and Lucas May as the only committed backup catchers for next season (both are set to make the MLB minimum of $400K). AJ Ellis has become an attractive option to some teams looking for catching. Ellis is set to be 28 years old next season and has compiled a minor league career of strong defense behind the plate as well a .398 career OBP in nearly 1800 minor league PA’s.

In the infield, Jim Thome is a DH player and his services as a Dodger was never seen as anything more than a part-time bat to counter James Loney’s perceived lack of power (although Loney did finish strong in the power department during the month of September). Middle INFer Chin-Lung Hu is committed for $400K. SS Rafeal Furcal and 3B Casey Blake are both signed until 2011 and 2012.

In the outfield Manny Ramirez will probably agree to his $20M option (surprise: he did) while Matt Kemp should be seeing a hefty pay raise during his first off season of arb. Fourth OFer Juan Pierre will see another year as one of the most overpaid players in baseball as he’s set to receive $10M while Jason Repko is set for his second arb hearing and shouldn’t see much more than what he was paid in ’09 ($550K).

Next Season’s Forecast: Except for second base, the Dodgers are set offensively. The team may look to upgrade at 1B since Loney’s puny HR production has the Dodger brass grumbling but with no outstanding FA options available this off season the team may be forced to give Loney another year and hope OF prospect Andrew Lambo can make the jump and hold down 1B in the near future (his limited defense as an OFer makes him an automatic 1B candidate but his lack of power in AA in ’09 does cloud up the skies a bit).

Starting pitching is the one major need I see for the Dodgers this off season. SP Jason Schmidt and his horrible contract are set to finally come off the books this off season. Signing SP John Lackey this winter would seem like an obvious move and he would fit well as the Dodger #1 starter with Billingsly and Kershaw capably handling the #2 and #3 positions. Hiroki Kuroda should make a good #4 starter. Finding help in the back end of the rotation shouldn’t be too difficult and if SP James McDonald can scale back some of his BB’s he should fit fine in this rotation.

As it stands the Dodgers have $65 million committed to payroll next season and their upcoming arbitration cases should be expensive but with a little creative wrangling (and some luck) they should be able to shore up their necessities and remain competitive while still coming in under last year’s budget of $100 million.

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