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Dodgers face offseason of decisions

Dodgers face offseason of decisions

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodger Stadium clean-up crew hadn't finished its shift after the team's elimination before the Dodgers hot-stove e-mails started flying:

Will Manny re-sign? Can they trade for Peavy? Who'll play in the infield?

With Manny Ramirez heading a list of 12 free agents, general manager Ned Colletti must deal with the flip side of flexibility. The good news is he doesn't have many players under contract for next year to bog down the payroll. The bad news is he doesn't have many players under contract for next year to field a team.

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The club doesn't paint itself into a public relations corner by committing to a certain payroll dollar figure, but it spent about $125 million this year and, if all 12 free agents leave, would free up about half that number to reallocate.

Ramirez is the logical one based on emotion, because the fans loved his play on and off the field and fans think short term. But Manny is thinking long term. And management must decide of it's logical to commit megabucks long term to a 36-year-old with knee issues who almost certainly would have greater value in his later years in the American League with the designated hitter rule. Is it logical to expect Ramirez to be playing the outfield at age 39 or 40 or 41?

Jeff Kent was the first 40-year-old Opening Day position player in Dodgers history. And while he said he was healed from left knee surgery and ready to play in the postseason, the club wouldn't let him. But if they don't sign Ramirez and Kent doesn't return, who steps in to slug 30 or 40 homers in the middle of the lineup?

But there are many more issues than Manny. The Dodgers need a shortstop, although logic would dictate bringing back Rafael Furcal. Even if they move Blake DeWitt to third base, they need a starting second baseman.

Assuming both Derek Lowe and Brad Penny are gone, that means replacing the Nos. 1 and 2 starters entering the season. That's why the Jake Peavy trade rumors are logical. And there's CC Sabathia out there, although is it logical to commit more than $100 million to a pitcher? There have been just four others and, with the exception of Johan Santana's first season with the Mets, the track record of Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, and Kevin Brown is not encouraging.

But there is a core of young talent to work with -- starting position players Russell Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and DeWitt; starting pitchers Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald; relievers Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Cory Wade and Scott Elbert. The average age is 24.

The Dodgers haven't finished first in consecutive complete seasons since 1977-78. They've got a lot of winter work to do if they're about to end that streak.

CONTRACT ISSUES

Free agents: Joe Beimel, LHP; Casey Blake, 3B; Rafael Furcal, SS; Nomar Garciaparra, SS; Jason Johnson, RHP; Jeff Kent, 2B; Derek Lowe, RHP; Greg Maddux, RHP; Pablo Ozuna, 2B: Chan Ho Park, P; Manny Ramirez, OF; Mark Sweeney, 1B.

Eligible for arbitration: Scott Proctor, RHP; Takashi Saito, RHP; Yhency Brazoban, RHP; Russell Martin, C; Angel Berroa, SS; Andre Ethier, OF; Jason Repko.

Club options: Gary Bennett, C, $900,000 or $50,000 buyout; Angel Berroa, SS, $5.5 million or $500,000 buyout; Brad Penny, RHP, $9.25 million or $2 million buyout.

Non-tender possibilities: Angel Berroa, SS; Scott Proctor, P; Jason Repko, OF.

CATCHERS

Russell Martin, .280 BA, 13 HRs, 69 RBIs, 87 R in 2008
Danny Ardoin, .235, 1 HR, 4 RBIs, 3 R

Martin's play slipped in all categories, but he still was the club's only All-Star. Maybe he just needs more time off.

FIRST BASE

James Loney, .289 BA, 13 HRs, 90 RBIs, 66 R

Manager Joe Torre thinks he'll keep improving.

SECOND BASE

Chin-lung Hu, .181 BA, 0 HRs, 9 RBIs, 16 R

An acquisition is almost a certainty.

SHORTSTOP

Angel Berroa, .230 BA, 1 HR, 16 RBIs, 26 R

Berroa isn't viewed as a starter.

THIRD BASE

Blake DeWitt, .264 BA, 9 HRs, 52 RBIs, 45 R

Torre said he prefers DeWitt at third base.

OUTFIELD

Andre Ethier, .305 BA, 20 HRs, 77 RBIs, 90 R
Matt Kemp, .290 BA, 18 HRs, 76 RBIs, 93 R
Andruw Jones, .158 BA, 3 HRs, 14 RBIs, 21 R
Juan Pierre, .283, 1 HR, 28 RBIs, 44 R, 40 SB
Jason Repko, .167 BA, 0 HRs, 0 RBIs, 0 R
Delwyn Young, .246 BA, 1 HR, 17 RBIs, 10 R

Where's Manny?

ROTATION

RHP: Chad Billingsley, 16-10, 3.14 ERA, 201 Ks
RHP: Hiroki Kuroda, 9-10, 3.73 ERA, 116 Ks
LHP: Clayton Kershaw, 5-5, 4.26 ERA
RHP: James McDonald, 7-4, 3.26 ERA (AA/AAA)
RHP: Jason Schmidt, injured in 2008

If Derek Lowe and Brad Penny don't return, there are innings to pick up. Schmidt's the wild card, but can't be counted on.

BULLPEN

RHP: Takashi Saito, 4-4, 2.49 ERA, 18 SV, 60 Ks
RHP: Jonathan Broxton, 3-5, 3.13 ERA, 14 SV, 88 Ks
LHP: Hong-Chih Kuo, 5-3, 2.14 ERA, 1 SV
RHP: Cory Wade, 2-1, 2.27 ERA
LHP: Scott Elbert, 4-1, 2.40 ERA (AA)
RHP: Ramon Troncoso, 1-1, 4.34 ERA
RHP: Scott Proctor, 2-0, 6.05 ERA

Saito will be 39 next year and coming off a right elbow injury, so there is uncertainty whether he can regain his All-Star form, and even if he'll try. Broxton is the heir apparent for the closer role.

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

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