Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 2008 Dodgers

With all due respect to the Bronx Bombers, the team this offseason that's the most interesting and has the most options are Joe Torre's newest employers, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Let's cut to the chase, and take a quick look at how the Dodgers' roster stands as we enter free agency:

C: Russell Martin
1B: James Loney, Nomar Garciaparra
2B: Jeff Kent, Tony Abreu
SS: Rafael Furcal, Wilson Valdez
3B: Andrew LaRoche
OF: Juan Pierre, Jason Repko, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp
SP: Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, Esteban Loaiza, Mark Hendrickson
RP: Takaishi Saito, Chad Billingsley, Jonathon Broxton, Scott Proctor, Joe Beimel, Yhency Brazoban

The guys whose names are in red exhibit a valuable quality: they have contracts that are up after 2008. Those in purple are close: their contracts are up in 2008, but the club retains an option for them in '09, and in the case of Penny, there's zero chance they won't exercise it at a relatively paltry $9 million, unless his arm falls off. As for the rest of the players, with the exception of the wildly overpaid Pierre and Schmidt, the rest are young and cheap---none slated to make over $3 million.

This, as constituted, is not a terrible roster. Hell, you could arguing that just getting rid of Grady Little makes them the best team in the division. If the pitching stays healthy (treeeemendous "if"), it's a solid 4 upfront, and Billingsley really out to occupy the 5th slot. And the pen of Saito and some hard-throwers doesn't suck either, outside of the fact that Scott Proctor has undoubtedly switched to a PPO plan with Torre becoming his manager once again. The infield's old in spots, but has a bunch of young studs in Loney, Martin and LaRoche, and really, the only problem is the outfield, which is awful, Kemp's potential excepted.

And this is where the contract situation kicks in, because it's noteworthy that:

(1) Even assuming some decent arbitration awards, the Dodgers have approximately $90 million in obligations for next year, some $15 million below what they spent last year.

(2) HALF of the $90 million that's owed now is coming off the books after 2008. This team has a ton of money it can spend if it defers payments just by a year.

Which makes the availability of Alex Rodriguez as a free agent interesting....but less interesting than the other players that are available. Yes, Rodriguez would help this squad--who wouldn't want a guy that can put up a huge OPS and 45 HRs each year? (The Yanks, apparently.) But he's not an answer for a team that wants to compete for the next 3-6 years and is looking at a somewhat loaded Arizona team in its own division. He'd take up the entire payroll spot that's opened up for them, and would be blocking LaRoche in the process, and would do nothing to solve their OF problems.

Instead, this team should look to the more intriguing players that are available via the trade market: Johan Santana and Miguel Cabrera. Both are young. Both are studs. And both would provide short- and long-term answers to all their issues on both sides of the ball. Best of all, Ned Colletti hates youngsters, and has a ton of prospects to trade for them both. I have to think that some package of LaRoche, Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Billingsley, Broxton and Loney could get both of these players. And in the process, they would cost less than A-Rod alone for 2008, allowing the team to sign some useful filler players (Aaron Rowand? Brad Wilkerson?), and field a neat squad of:

C: Martin
1B: Wilkerson, Garciaparra
2B: Abreu, Kent
SS: Furcal, Valdez
3B: Cabrera
OF: Pierre, Rowand, Ethier
SP: Santana, Penny, Schmidt, Lowe, Loaiza
RP: Saito, Brazoban, Proctor, Hendrickson and 3 other dudes

Now THAT would be a fun team. Let's see if Colletti sticks to his guns of dealing off talented prospects, but instead of getting execrable commodities like Hendrickson, instead uses them this time for in-their-prime stars that can make this team relevant.

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