Mailbag: Looking at upgrade in center

Mailbag: What about a free-agent splash?

If A-Rod doesn't opt out of his contract and the best free agents are center fielders Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones, which one would the Dodgers pursue?
-- Corey N., San Dimas, Calif.

Maybe neither. If the Dodgers try to solve their offensive problems by acquiring an outfielder, it won't solve their third-base situation. I can't believe management is secure turning that position over to either Nomar Garciaparra or Andy LaRoche based on their play in 2007.

One scenario discussed internally is moving Matt Kemp to center field, Juan Pierre to left and targeting a third baseman through a trade. Miguel Cabrera is the obvious impact bat that many teams would covet, although the return of Adrian Beltre would also be an upgrade defensively as well as offensively. Whether either of them, or any other quality third baseman, will be available is another question altogether.

With Joe Torre available, how can the Dodgers not be interested?
-- Joseph M., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Who's to say Torre would be interested torpedoing Grady Little, who has one year left on his contract? Torre has a reputation for doing the right thing, which makes a lot of insiders very skeptical he would get involved with the Dodgers at this time.

Besides, general manager Ned Colletti has not wavered from his stance that Little would return, so anything else would create the appearance of a decision from above and a flashback to two years ago, when Paul DePodesta was about to hire Terry Collins as manager and instead DePodesta was fired by owner Frank McCourt. Less than a month ago, all parties talked about staying the course.

Will the Dodgers pay Russell Martin what he's worth to keep him on the team for a very long time?
-- Terri M., Portsmouth, Va.

The current management team has not signed a multi-year contract with any player not a free agent, and Martin won't be a free agent for four more years. Some clubs try to lock up young players with multi-year contracts to avoid the uncertainty of salary arbitration and defer free agency, but the risk is great because of injury and declining performance.

Generally, there is little incentive to the club to sign a player to a multi-year contract until that player approaches free agency. Besides, the Dodgers already are facing a significant outlay to upgrade the current roster.

I continue to read that the Dodgers are in need of a power-hitting third baseman. Where does this leave LaRoche?
-- Jay O., Bakersfield, Calif.

It leaves him needing to prove he can be a healthy, power-hitting third baseman in the Major Leagues. While his chances with the Dodgers have been limited, so has been his success. Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, James Loney and Kemp produced pretty much immediately and have earned more secure spots in the club's future.

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LaRoche has not, and his tendency to get hurt at the age of 23 might be of greater concern than his lack of production. Back and shoulder injuries like the ones he has can become chronic.

Will Garciaparra be the starting third baseman next year or will he return to first base?
-- Dennis M., El Monte, Calif.

Probably neither. Garciaparra had a truly unspectacular 2007 after a Comeback Player of the Year season in 2006 led to his re-signing and the expectation of production in the middle of the batting order. He hit only seven home runs with 59 RBIs, which isn't nearly enough for an everyday player at either corner infield position.

And he hasn't stayed healthy through an entire season since 2003. He's a wildly popular player, but the Dodgers need to make personnel decisions void of emotion. It would be great if Garciaparra could suddenly regain his form of four years ago, or even of 2006, but expecting it isn't logical.

With Olmedo Saenz gone, Garciaparra could be very valuable as a clutch right-handed bat off the bench with the defensive ability to fill in anywhere around the infield. Whether he would be accepting of that diminished role is another huge offseason issue for management, but it's probably time for somebody to find out.

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