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Dodgers have questions to answer

Dodgers face many questions

LOS ANGELES -- Less than three months ago, the Dodgers were three wins away from reaching the World Series.

But that was then. Now, six weeks from the opening of the Dodgers' first Arizona-based Spring Training, their fans are having a restless winter.

They are frustrated that the club has been in a negotiating standoff with outfielder Manny Ramirez, even though Ramirez ignored the club's initial offer (and apparently the only one he's received from any club so far).

They don't understand why 15 other free agents have left -- including starting pitchers Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Greg Maddux, relievers Takashi Saito, Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park and infielders Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra -- while only utilityman Mark Loretta and pitcher Claudio Vargas -- who was released twice last year -- have been acquired.

Nor why an impact pitcher hasn't been added to a starting rotation that consists of Chad Billingsley and his broken leg, Hiroki Kuroda and his fickle shoulder, 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw and Jason Schmidt -- if his arm holds up.

The club's biggest offseason moves have been to retain shortstop Rafael Furcal, who missed five months of the season, and third baseman Casey Blake with three-year contracts.

With nearly $50 million in last year's payroll shed through the departure of the free agents to this point, fans have been further annoyed by comments and indications from management that money matters. There is concern at Dodger Stadium, and throughout MLB for that matter, that the worldwide economic collapse will make a decrease in revenues unavoidable.

More to management's point on the money, however, is that the commitment to youth is real. The successful arrivals of Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton and Cory Wade have emboldened the club to see if this nucleus can continue to improve. But that also means generally avoiding free agents with long-term contract demands.

Hot Stove
Term of contract also is the dilemma with Ramirez, because he turns 37 in May and the Dodgers have no designated hitter role to offer as he approaches the big Four-O. The club is willing to pay him a huge salary for two years, while Ramirez wants no fewer than four. Negotiations, virtually non-existent since the Dodgers withdrew their two-year, $45 million offer six weeks ago, resumed last week.

They will be helped with the club's maneuvering to take beleaguered outfielder Andruw Jones off the roster, which is expected to be completed later this month. An agreement has been reached to defer most of his remaining $21.1 million in salary to create payroll flexibility. That will lead either to his trade or release.

Meanwhile, general manager Ned Colletti enters the final year of his four-year contract trying to improve the pitching frugally, meaning he's been focused on the Jon Garlands and Randy Wolfs instead of the CC Sabathias and A.J. Burnetts.

There also was talk of a deal with the Cubs for Jason Marquis, who apparently will be traded to Colorado instead. Colletti also needs to bolster the bullpen, particularly with the non-tender loss of Saito, the closer and best acquisition of the Colletti era. And he's looking for a veteran backup for Martin behind the plate.

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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