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Colletti could target pitching at Winter Meetings

Colletti could target pitching at Winter Meetings

Colletti could target pitching at Winter Meetings
LOS ANGELES -- Since taking over seven years ago, general manager Ned Colletti has established an offseason pattern of striking fast for one or two free agents to make his club's task at the Winter Meetings more manageable.

This year, he even had enough money to do it, solidifying the Dodgers' bullpen by re-signing closer Brandon League, even if it looks like an overpayment at three years and $22.5 million.

Barring another pre-emptive strike before arriving in Nashville over the weekend, that leaves Colletti's primary focus the addition of a starting pitcher worthy of being a No. 2 to Clayton Kershaw.

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The Dodgers have the money to chase a Zack Greinke, the best of a thin free-agent crop. But with new ownership and a summer tradefest that loaded the roster, for the first time they have the trade pieces to pry loose a Cliff Lee or James Shields or Felix Hernandez.

And they would still have enough money left over to lock up Korean lefty Ryu Hyun-jin, having secured exclusive negotiating rights to the 25-year-old with a $25.7 million posting fee that's refundable if he doesn't sign by Dec. 10.

Sure to return are Cy Young runner-up Kershaw and Josh Beckett. Because of owner Guggenheim Baseball Partners' vast wealth, the Dodgers have been linked to Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ryan Dempster and Kyle Lohse. Only Greinke would satisfy the desire for a No. 2, which is why the trade route might be the one taken.

For every starter the Dodgers sign, they create a potentially tradable surplus of pitchers, depending on the health of Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. Cautiously optimistic that Billingsley will avoid Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers could have Chris Capuano or Aaron Harang or both as trade pieces.

Ambitious fans already are envisioning a rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Billingsley, Beckett and Ryu. With a surplus of pitching, the Dodgers could then turn their attention to secondary needs -- a fourth outfielder, left-handed reliever and corner infielder.

The fourth outfielder is a tricky fit. Tentatively, Jerry Hairston is penciled into that role, but he is returning from significant hip labrum surgery. And Carl Crawford, although destined to be the left fielder, might not be ready for Spring Training or even Opening Day as he heals from Tommy John surgery.

Add to that the need for the fourth outfielder with center-field skills -- Matt Kemp is coming off shoulder surgery -- and the Dodgers are looking for more than a marginal bench player.

For left-handed relief, the Dodgers are interested in re-signing Randy Choate, who was obtained in the Hanley Ramirez trade. They want depth, with Scott Elbert coming off elbow surgery and the impressive Paco Rodriguez still unproven over time.

On the infield corners, Colletti wants a right-handed hitter who could spell Adrian Gonzalez at first base and stand in for Luis Cruz if he can't duplicate his second-half breakthrough. They passed on Kevin Youkilis over the summer, despite having talked to his agent this offseason.

If new hitting coach Mark McGwire can help Juan Uribe regain his old form, that would be a welcome solution. But Uribe no longer gets the benefit of the doubt and will need to win the job in Spring Training. Other in-house options include Scott Van Slyke, Alex Castellanos and C.J. Retherford.

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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