Dodgers' shopping can begin in earnest

Dodgers' shopping can begin in earnest

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers wasted no time addressing their free-agent situation by re-signing starting pitcher Ted Lilly to a three-year, $33 million contract before he could test his value on the open market.

In the process, general manager Ned Colletti revealed that the club's 2011 payroll would increase from the 2010 payroll, which was $83 million at the start of the season and $93 million by the end. Colletti didn't provide an actual budget number, but whatever limitations were placed on him a year ago when the Dodgers pursued free agents only around the margins have been eased despite ongoing ownership uncertainty.

That said, the Dodgers have spent more than $1 billion on multiyear contracts over the last 12 years to prove that they can't buy a World Series. They don't figure to be nine-figure bidders on Carl Crawford or (former Dodger) Jayson Werth, even though either would provide the kind of middle-of-the-order threat the Dodgers haven't had since Manny Ramirez's 2009 suspension for violating MLB's drug policy.

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Nonetheless, if Don Mattingly is to have a productive offense in his rookie season as manager, Colletti needs to get him a run producer. The Dodgers also want to add another starting pitcher and need an experienced catcher with Russell Martin's health an unknown.

There should be about $10 million freed from last season's payroll -- factoring in free agents coming of the books, built-in raises from multiyear contracts and projected raises through arbitration for Chad Billingsley, Hong-Chih Kuo and James Loney.

With Lilly and outfielder Jay Gibbons re-signed, the Dodgers have seven other players who are eligible for free agency -- Hiroki Kuroda, Vicente Padilla, Rod Barajas, Reed Johnson, Scott Podsednik, Jeff Weaver and Brad Ausmus, who retired.

Indications are that Colletti is still interested in landing at least one of the two starters, Kuroda or Padilla, although the former is coming off a $15 million salary and the latter an injury-plagued season and $5.025 million salary.

Colletti said he also wants to add a reliever and "a position player or two." He previously said he hoped to keep Barajas, a catcher.

Contract issues

Free agents: Barajas, C; Podsednik, OF; Johnson, OF; Kuroda, RHP; Padilla, RHP; Weaver, RHP

Eligible for arbitration: Billingsley, RHP; Kuo, LHP; Loney, 1B; Martin, C; George Sherrill, LHP; Ryan Theriot, 2B

Non-tender possibilities: Martin, Sherrill, Theriot

Areas of need

Left fielder: There really hasn't been one since Ramirez returned from his 2009 suspension. If the club can't buy or trade for a potent bat, a platoon is a possibility with Gibbons and a comparably affordable right-handed counterpart.

Infielders: An offensive third baseman would be nice (Adrian Beltre is probably too expensive) as Casey Blake could transition to utility, including time in left field. Loney's second-half fade, combined with an apparent low ceiling in the power department and an anticipated salary raise, makes him a trade candidate, while second baseman Theriot could be non-tendered because his offense disappeared down the stretch.

Catching: Martin hasn't had a setback, but a broken hip is such a freakish injury, especially at catcher, that the club needs insurance.

Pitching: One veteran starter and a durable, veteran reliever would round out the staff.

2011 payroll

It's not like it just hit the lottery, but the club has promised the payroll will increase from last year, when it finished at $93 million. Best guess is that there's maybe $10 million for improvements over and above salaries already committed.

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