LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers still don't have the power bat Ned Colletti said was a winter priority, but they've got plenty of leadoff hitters. Who bats where remains as much a mystery as who will drive them in after the Dodgers officially announced the signing of Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract Wednesday. Colletti gave the classic general manager lateral, saying the batting order will be up to manager Grady Little. Pierre said he'd prefer to remain a leadoff hitter, but was willing to do whatever was asked. Shortstop Rafael Furcal is other candidate to top the batting order.
"It doesn't matter," he said. "I've been leadoff most of my career. When I was traded to Florida, Luis Castillo batted leadoff and I was second and had no problem with it. Later, Jack McKeon put me back in leadoff. I'm probably most comfortable leading off, but it's no problem." Colletti reiterated his new offseason game plan: With the lack of power hitters available on the free-agent market, he's shifted back into a Little Ball mode. "We chose to go in the same direction as last year," he said. "We'll turn our attention to pitching now. There's a hitter or two I have some interest in. We'll look for pitching for a while. It's something I'd like to get done without too much time going by. If we get enough pitching, we may add a bat down the road." That's the new strategy after losing right fielder J.D. Drew and keeping first baseman Nomar Garciaparra: gather up a surplus of pitching that could be turned into a trade for a hitter, perhaps one with a contract another club would like to get out from under. While Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez is on the market again, a better fit would be a player who could also provide defense. Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre, the ex-Dodger, comes to mind. While there has been a run on position players, the top free-agent pitchers -- Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt -- are taking their time. The Dodgers, distant also-rans in the bidding for Daisuke Matsuzaka, are likely to take a shot at the latest Japanese pitcher available, left-hander Kei Igawa. As for the run on position players, the Dodgers chose Pierre over Gary Matthews Jr., who on Wednesday was taken by the Angels for five years and $50 million. Matthews has more power than Pierre, but at 31 will be 37 at the end of the contract, while Pierre will be 35. Matthews is coming off his best season, while Pierre has been more consistent and also has postseason experience. Those traits were characteristic of players acquired in recent years by the San Francisco Giants, where Colletti understudied before joining the Dodgers last year. "I talked to [Matthews'] agent and we didn't see eye to eye on a few things," said Colletti, who is believed to have balked at the request for a five-year deal for a player who's had one big season. "I've been around Gary since he was a young kid. He turned it around last year after some up-and-down years." Pierre lacks Matthews' power and Gold Glove-caliber defense, but he's done more longer than Matthews. A left-handed hitter, Pierre has a .303 career batting average over six-plus seasons, averaging 53 stolen bases a year. He began his career with three-plus seasons in Colorado, went to Florida for three years and in 2006 played for the Cubs. He hit .292 in Chicago with a league-leading 204 hits, 58 stolen bases and 87 runs scored. Defensively, although his throwing arm is considered below average, he did not commit an error. He was the toughest batter in the National League to strike out and second in the league in steals and triples (13). He also played in 162 games for the fourth consecutive season, which makes him an upgrade from the 39-year-old Kenny Lofton, who hit .301 with 32 steals and 79 runs scored in 129 games for the Dodgers last season. During the Marlins' championship season of 2003, Pierre finished 10th in National League MVP voting, as he led the league in five categories, including games (162), at-bats (668), stolen bases (65), singles (168) and sacrifice hits (15). That year, he was honored by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum with the James "Cool Papa" Bell Award for leading the league in thefts. In the World Series, Pierre batted .333 with a .481 on-base percentage in six games. Pierre is known as a hard worker and positive clubhouse influence. A native of Mobile, Ala., Pierre attended the University of South Alabama after graduating from Alexandria High School in Louisiana, where he was the valedictorian. He earned $5.75 million last year. His acquisition indicates the club does not feel Matt Kemp is ready to play center field every day in the Major Leagues.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.