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Freely Available Talent: The Bargain Of Juan Rivera

This figures to be an interesting winter for the Dodgers. The team will finish somewhere near a .500 record, but there is some excitement if not an extra sense of accomplishment to it because of their hot finish. The Dodgers are 21-8 since August 22.

We really have no idea what the payroll budget will be for 2012, and it could go a myriad of ways. The Dodgers sold fewer than three million tickets this season for the first time since 2000, and the second time since 1996, and that doesn't count no-shows, which could be as high as 20-30%. The team is still in bankruptcy, and with Frank McCourt still at the helm for the near future, there is good reason to think season ticket sales will plummet for 2012.

Then again, the hearing in Bankruptcy Court in Delaware on October 12 could provide the lifeline McCourt needs, green lighting a lucrative television deal that could fund a winter spending spree. But in truth we don't really know what's in store in building next year's team.

No matter if a team's payroll is $70 million or $120 million, the lifeblood of an organization is finding productive, cheap talent. The most likely source of this is through the draft. Young players make close to nothing in a relative sense in their first three years of MLB service time. The MLB minimum salary is $414,000, and nearly all "zero to three" players make somewhere near this amount. For instance, Clayton Kershaw while turning in one of of the greatest pitching seasons in Dodgers franchise history is making $500,000 this year, because he had two years, 105 days of service time entering this year.

Another way to get bang for the buck is picking up guys off the scrap heap. Usually this someone thought of as a AAAA player, someone who is freely available (free being a relative term, like a waiver transaction fee or a six-figure minor league deal with an invitation to spring training) for some reason or another. Jack Cust is an example of a hitter who gave the A's four mostly productive seasons beginning at age 28 after toiling in the relative obscurity of the minor leagues for five different organizations over a decade.

One such player who has helped fuel the Dodgers' second-half surge is former Angel Juan Rivera, who was designated for assignment by Toronto in July. The Dodgers acquired Rivera for a player to be named later or cash during the All-Star break, and for a pro-rated share of the minimum salary (about $179,000) he has given the Dodgers a line of .294/.354/.438 with 12 doubles and five home runs in 57 games, all while giving the Dodgers offensive production out of left field and first base, something that was missing in the first half of the year.

Rivera leads the National League with 40 RBI since August 1. He has basically been everything Marcus Thames was supposed to be, which is good since Rivera literally took Thames' spot on the roster in July. Rivera is a career .278/.328/.451 hitter, and has fared well against left-handed pitchers, hitting .289/.336/.497 against southpaws.

Rivera is making $5.25 million this season (again, the Dodgers are only paying him a pro-rated share of the minimum salary; Toronto is responsible for the rest) in the final year of a three-year deal originally signed with the Angels. It sounds like the Dodgers want Rivera back for 2012, with his role likely dependent upon just how much the Dodgers have to spend this winter.

Do you think Juan Rivera will be a Dodger in 2012? Do you think Rivera should be a Dodger next year? I wouldn't mind having Rivera back in a reserve role at something like $2 million or so. What say you?