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Dodgers likely to be patient at Meetings

LA likely to be patient at Meetings

LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has been chided for saying it's business as usual for the baseball operations department, but he's been working under payroll limitations for most of his four years in charge. He needed to be creative in filling holes last year, and among the results were steady starter Randy Wolf and All-Star second baseman Orlando Hudson, both signed after the first of the year.

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In fact, with the Winter Meetings next week in Indianapolis, Colletti is likely to stand patiently on the sidelines, doing more looking than signing, as the biggest needs again are at least one starting pitcher and a second baseman.

"Those are still the areas we'd like to improve," Colletti said. "And we have to rebuild the bench."

Wolf and Hudson essentially replaced Derek Lowe and Jeff Kent a year ago. Even as they maxed out their incentive-filled contracts, Wolf and Hudson proved to be wise value signings at $8 million each.

Both are deserving of the multiyear deals they couldn't find a year ago, but neither is likely to get that from the Dodgers now. The franchise's history is littered with bad multiyear signings, to the tune of just under $1 billion over the past 12 years.

Two obvious pitching possibilities are Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland. Colletti already acquired them in 2009, so the interest is established. Length and value of contract again will be decisive factors.

The Dodgers aren't expected to bid on any of this year's big-name free agents, but they didn't last year either, except for Manny Ramirez, a very special case indeed. They quickly shelled out significant money to keep the left side of their infield (Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal) intact, but otherwise nibbled on the margins to bolster the bench and sifted through the leftovers to score a handful of key bargains.

Los Angeles will have $40 million in departing free-agent salaries coming off last year's $110 million payroll, but there's another $20 million likely to be added in raises through the arbitration process for the nucleus of a club that has reached the National League Championship Series the past two seasons. What's left over will go to replace the 15 free agents, most of them supporting cast with manageable wages.

Even after overspending on Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre and Furcal in earlier years, the Dodgers gave deals last winter to Furcal, Blake and then Ramirez, but seem to have little stomach this winter for free agents with multiyear commitments.

As much as some fans want the Dodgers to throw money at every roster hole, that has never been the style of current ownership. Frank McCourt has indicated he'd rather develop stars such as Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw than trade them away and buy bigger names with gigantic salaries.

Of the seven position players with jobs determined, four (Kemp, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Russell Martin) are under the age of 27. The same goes for two (Kershaw and Chad Billingsley) of the three projected starting pitchers, as well as each key reliever except for 32-year-old George Sherrill.

Nonetheless, Colletti's past performance indicates his scouts will come up with a surprising reclamation pitching project (Jeff Weaver, Chan Ho Park, Takashi Saito, etc., in years past). He'll patiently let the pitching market be established by early signings and pick over the available pool to come up with another Wolf. And he'll fill the bench with this year's version of Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta, Juan Castro and Doug Mientkiewicz.

At second base, some fans want the glitz of Dan Uggla or Brandon Phillips, even though that would require the Dodgers to deal away prospects, spend significant salary and pass on a chance to see if Blake DeWitt can continue the youth movement.

Colletti said he's prepared to go with DeWitt if he doesn't find a "solution." Among the available "solutions" are free-agent second basemen Ronnie Belliard (who played well after Colletti traded for him), Placido Polanco, Craig Counsell, Felipe Lopez, Marco Scutaro and Juan Uribe.

If the Dodgers make an impact trade, it's likely to include Pierre, who proved so valuable in 2009 -- during and after Ramirez's suspension. Oddly, both Pierre and the club seem more comfortable in his return as a fourth outfielder this winter than last winter, when the outfielder pushed to be moved.

But Colletti said he told Pierre in October he would "do what I could" if it meant a full-time job elsewhere. Pierre could be the key to a salary swap for an established starting pitcher, even though he's likely to see decent playing time with Ramirez needing more days off.

Colletti again shot down speculation that the Dodgers either want, or are willing, to move Billingsley.

"I can't trade him," Colletti said. "Where do you find another one? I need more, not less."

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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