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Dodgers Offseason Path Appears Set

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Through three days of the winter meetings, the Dodgers haven't made any deals, but we do have a better idea of their plans this offseason.  Randy Wolf signed with the Brewers today for $29.75 million over three years, leaving the Dodgers with a sizable void to fill in their starting rotation.

Actually, there are two holes to fill, behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Hiroki Kuroda.  It appears the Dodgers are still in the market for one starting pitcher, but general manager Ned Colletti said he is looking to fill one of the two open rotation slots from within.  Ken Gurnick of reported:

Colletti said he's comfortable holding the last rotation spot for a Spring Training competition involving James McDonald, Scott Elbert, Josh Lindblom, Charlie Haeger and Ramon Troncoso. Colletti added left-hander Eric Stults to that group he originally listed on Tuesday.

In my mind, Elbert is the favorite of that group, with his electric left arm, but there is plenty of time for that to get sorted out.  McDonald had success out of the bullpen (2.72 ERA, 8.70 strikeouts per nine innings), and I can see him returning to that role in 2010, even though I'm not ready to give up on him as a starter just yet.  Both Haeger and Stults are out of options, so they will not only be fighting for a starting role at Camelback Ranch, but also will be fighting for their baseball lives.

How the Dodgers fill that other starting rotation slot has yet to be seen, but the Dodgers don't have much room in their budget without getting creative.  If the Dodgers wanted to pay a pitcher $10 million a year, they would have either offered Wolf arbitration, or made an offer to him when presented the opportunity by Wolf's agent, Arn Tellem, today.  Wolf's deal, coupled with Brad Penny's deal with St. Louis (one year, $7.5 million plus incentives) and the oft-injured Rich Harden's deal with Texas (one year, $7.5 million with an $11.5 million option for 2011), made it clear that most free agent pitchers are simply out of the Dodgers' price range.  If they sign a free agent pitcher, it might be someone like a Vicente Padilla and Jon Garland, again.  That is, if they come cheaply enough.

Another option to fill the starting pitching void is to trade Juan Pierre.  The idea here is to swap Pierre's contract (two years, $18.5 million) for a high-priced pitcher in a swap of inflated contracts, using that money to pay for a position in need rather than for a fourth outfielder.  Options here include:

2009 2010 Projected
Pitcher 2010 Age ERA FIP ERA FIP Contract remaining
Bronson Arroyo 33 3.84 4.78 4.11 4.49 2010: $11m; 2011: $11m option ($2m buyout)
Aaron Harang 32 4.21 4.14 4.18 4.14 2010: $12.5m; 2011: $12.75m option ($2m buyout)
Paul Maholm 28 4.44 3.83 4.29 4.20 2 years, $11m total, plus $9.75m option for 2012
Nate Robertson 32 5.44 4.55 4.89 4.67 2010: $10m
Jeremy Bonderman 27 only 10 IP
4.43 4.22 2010: $12.5m
2010 Projections from Bill James Handbook Contract info courtesy of the amazing Cot's

I would have thought Kevin Millwood was another trade option (due $12 million in 2010), but he was traded to the Orioles earlier Wednesday.   Maholm may be a pipe dream, as his contract isn't all that onerous, but the Pirates seem interested in Pierre, so maybe there is a fit.

Matching up Pierre with a team directly might be tough, so a three-team trade may be the way to go.  In fact, Pierre may be traded to fill a different hole, second base.  Steve Henson of Yahoo Sports tweeted this on Wednesday night:

Dodgers are more concerned about 2B than letting on publicly, but 3-way trade tries at offing Pierre while filling 2B aren't working yet.

This is interesting, because in the report by Gurnick, Colletti showed a faith in Blake DeWitt manning the second base next season:

At second base, he's sounding more and more comfortable with DeWitt, although he still hopes to add a veteran from a group of free agents that includes Ronnie Belliard, Craig Counsell, Juan Uribe, Jamey Carroll and Felipe Lopez.

"Barring something not on the radar, it will be Blake DeWitt plus a veteran if we started the season today," Colletti said

Whether or not any budget constraints forced this philosophy, Colletti appears to have a faith in the Dodgers' young talent to play a big role in 2010.  If you ask me, I think the Dodgers bring back one of Garland or Padilla, and bring back Belliard to caddy for the Blakes -- DeWitt at second and Casey at third.  Which means the 2010 Dodgers will look a lot like the 2009 Dodgers in many ways, and the returning cast will have to step up.

Diamond Leung reported that Colletti expressed that same sentiment while showing faith in Chad Billingsley in an interview with Sirius XM:

"Sometimes, you have to make your guys better. You just can’t continue to expect to fill everything from the outside and continue to sign free agents and continue to trade away players. You end up in the same spot more times than not and most of the time worse off than before you started making moves…

The 2010 Dodgers need their guys to be better if they want to stay atop the NL West.