LA shopping for added offense

Dodgers search for a bat at GM meetings

LOS ANGELES -- General manager or no general manager, it doesn't take a Harvard graduate to figure out where the winter focus will be to improve the Dodgers roster.

"We need another bat," said Roy Smith, the vice president of player development who, with vice president and assistant general manager Kim Ng, will represent the club at this week's general managers meetings. The Dodgers offense ranked 15th this year in the 16-club National League.

While ownership continues the search for a general manager and, eventually, a field manager, Ng and Smith will touch base with other clubs to determine where the matches are. It has been suggested that Ng and Smith will be at a disadvantage without knowing the philosophy of the future GM they are representing.

Ng, a candidate for the job herself, disagreed.

"I don't think there will be anything different," said Ng. "We'll go there and talk to 29 clubs and see what they need and do a lot of exploring, but we do that at all the meetings. We talk to everybody and know what the options are."

The general manager meetings generally lay the groundwork for trades. Generally, few are actually announced during the meetings. Nonetheless, Ng said it would be a mistake to assume that she and Smith are not authorized to make a deal.

"We're handling things. It's business as usual," said Ng. "If the opportunity presents itself and the deal makes sense, we'll go after it."

Because the pool of free-agent talent is considered thin this year (Brian Giles and Johnny Damon might fit), observers are expecting more trading this offseason.

The Dodgers might find that bat by assuming all (or part) of a contract another club would like to unload through a salary-dump trade. Names that come to mind include Todd Helton, Jim Thome, Aubrey Huff and Adrian Beltre. With the removal from the payroll of Darren Dreifort, Shawn Green and Jeff Weaver, among others, the new GM could have a net of $25 million additional to spend.

The Dodgers farm system is considered one of the most fertile in baseball and to get an All-Star type hitter, it likely would require the organization to swallow hard and dangle some of those jewels of the future -- Joel Guzman, Russell Martin, Chad Billingsley, Andy LaRoche, Edwin Jackson -- for much-needed help now.

There is speculation that the Dodgers will deal outfielder Milton Bradley, whose controversies in two seasons included a run-in last year with teammate Jeff Kent and former manager Jim Tracy. Kent, who met with ownership two weeks ago, has told teammates he would ask for a trade if Bradley returns.

If that baggage hasn't made Bradley untradeable, his September knee surgery probably has. Club officials have said they are hopeful Bradley's repaired patellar tendon will be healed for the start of spring training, although it might not be until the All-Star break.

Either way, the re-signing of Jose Cruz last week was an indication that the club isn't necessarily counting on Bradley. And he's not the only medical unknown after a season of staggering injuries, as outfielders J.D. Drew and Jayson Werth, infielder Cesar Izturis and closer Eric Gagne are also recovering from operations.

This week's meetings probably will not clarify the Dodgers' situation at first base, where the Hee-Seop Choi experiment could end with the departure of his biggest supporter, former general manager Paul DePodesta, or at third base, where the Dodgers started seven different players (none in more than 33 games) in the wake of Beltre's departure. Nomar Garciaparra, who almost signed with the Dodgers a year ago, is a likely target again.

The Dodgers team ERA soared in 2005 to 4.38, for a variety of reasons. Odalis Perez missed about 40 percent of the season with injuries, the fifth starter job was given to Rule 5 rookie D.J. Houlton and Gagne's injury triggered a chain reaction of role shuffling in the bullpen.

With large financial commitments to starters Perez, Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, the club broke off in-season talks with Weaver on a contract extension and the free agent is expected to sign elsewhere.

That leaves the starting rotation in need of help, either from a youngster like Jackson or Billingsley stepping up, or possibly a journeyman free agent signing (Wilson Alvarez and Jose Lima are recent examples).

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.