The Dodgers' dilemma is one of timing. Their 2011 roster is already stocked with one big-ticket holdover in shortstop Rafael Furcal, and there are a number of retention-related concerns. Is Hiroki Kuroda a pitcher they want to re-commit to at top-market pricing, or do they want to shop around? But as far as the big picture, whether later next season or in 2012, they should be looking forward to the arrivals of top up-the-middle prospects like shortstop Dee Gordon and center fielder Trayvon Robinson.
Happily, even with the latest permutation of budget restructuring setting the Dodgers back $15-16 million in 2011 as it did in 2010, Ned Colletti has already commented that the Dodgers are going to be able to expand their budget a bit. During my day in his place, I'll take that as a comment on the McCourts' court combat becoming less of a distraction—this winter's activities ought not to be crippled as much as last year's so obviously were. But even that happy news gets tempered with the relentless pressure of arbitration-related inflation if they want to keep the players they control contractually, and there's a full fist's worth of expensive cases coming up: catcher Russell Martin, first baseman James Loney, middle infielder Ryan Theriot, starting pitcher Chad Billingsley, and fragile power lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.
First, let's go for the unlikely big-ticket options, so let's start by getting in on Cliff Lee. Don't just accept “big-market ballclub” as a compliment, own that label and bid on the pitcher you want to get this offseason. Sure, the Yankees will nuke my offer, but bid them up on the off chance that we here in Dodgertown win; if and when you don't (once I'm kicked out of the office), thank me later if I've sucked a whole bunch of Yankee dollars out of the market and potentially saved you boys and girls in blue some subsequent free-market expenses.
Next, let's keep shooting for the moon, and go to the Brewers and find out what it's going to take to get Prince Fielder's last season under contract. Recognize that it's just one year you're getting, however, because as with any Scott Boras client, this “special talent” is going to explore the market. So, start off by offering Loney and a pitching prospect, and toss in Ivan DeJesus Jr. or Jaime Pedroza in case Doug Melvin comes to notice that this Rickie-Weeks-at-second-base thing still isn't going so well. It probably won't work—the Brewers might have their own delusions of relevance, let alone grandeur, to entertain—but it's worth the cell minutes to find out if there's something doable there.
So, having thrown open Logan White's horn of plenty in the pursuit of the one whale you might want to harpoon, and in face of the likelihood that Melvin laughed off my offer, you can ratchet down expectations and try trading Loney and Theriot to the Orioles for Luke Scott. Scott will be another arbitration case, so this isn't about saving money, but about making sure you're not putzing around with Xavier Paul or Garret Anderson or Scott Podsednik or the like in left field in 2011. This might seem a strange move for the Orioles, but they need a shortstop and the market's fairly thin there, and they're without a real first baseman—maybe Loney resembles one in their eyes, and if he's a marketable player in Baltimore, there's no harm in also getting the benefit of putting his bat in somebody else's lineup.
Operating on the assumption that the Fielder initiative falters but taking for granted that I've successfully enticed Andy MacPhail into the fall-back swap to add Scott, there's the need to go out and get a first baseman. Here, the market is generous, so take advantage of the fact you're a team in a place some people want to play for. Since we've got Scott as well as Andre Ethier for lefty power, how about pursuing some lineup balance by seeing if Paul Konerko is the guy who'd like a chance with his original organization. Offer a two-year, $20 million deal, and see if he exploits the league change to good effect.
So, if we dealt Theriot, what does that leave us at second base? As you've probably noticed, this chain of events means we still have DeJesus, and since we also have Jamey Carroll under contract, we're probably covered in terms of playable options. Maybe we do something interesting as far as bringing in a low-cost lefty-batting alternative. See if Akinori Iwamura will take a non-roster invite, and make a good impression in camp.
Which brings up the question of what to do with Iwamura's countryman in the Dodgers rotation. I'm already assuming the bid on Lee failed—it's a worthwhile use of my time, but a longshot. So, now it's time to turn to whether we should re-sign Kuroda. As nice as Kuroda's three-year spin has been, it's hard to really say he needs to be paid $15 million per annum, where his just-expired deal crested. Add in the fact that, among regular starting pitchers last season, his .539 SNWP doesn't rate all that favorably next to Carl Pavano's .550, and you don't want to use his 2010 pricing as your starting point. After all, the Nedster just re-signed Ted Lilly for less per annum over three years, and he tied with Pavano in SNWP. So, see if Kuroda would like to stay put while taking something around or below Lilly's compensation, and let him walk if that's considered low-balling.
While you're at it, don't settle for John Ely and the like for the fifth slot in the rotation. Instead, see if you like how Brandon Webb's rehab is coming along, and if there's enough there, give him a deal built around the potentially expensive, worthwhile risk that innings and starts will equal bigger paydays. If he doesn't bite, see if Jeremy Bonderman will. If Kuroda doesn't take your money, go for both Webb and Bonderman, and perhaps Aaron Harang as well.
Finally, I'm only GM for a Day, which keeps me from really being in a position to deal with the one issue that I think everyone associated with the organization has to worry about: How will Don Mattingly handle Matt Kemp? Not to put too fine a point on it, but questions over Kemp's motivation existed before Joe Torre got here, and they have outlasted the future Hall of Fame skipper. Whether the borrowed Yankee legacy of Torre's portable heir apparent adds anything extra in the dugout is already going to be an important consideration, but heading into their next camp and larger than any single question involving Mattingly's acumen as a skipper is going to be how he handles his responsibility to manage his players. If questions over Kemp's effort continue to simmer as a subject as much as they did on Torre's watch, you can count on its ongoing capacity to distract from the task at hand—an eminently winnable National League West.
So, to recap, we'll make plays for Fielder and Lee, gun for Scott, Konerko, and re-signing Kuroda, add a fragile veteran or two to round out the rotation, and see if Donnie Baseball is good with inter-office communications before the subject becomes a problem. Happily, I'm only here for the day, so I don't have to sort out what to do about the expensive arbitration cases, particularly Martin, though I'll leave behind a Post-It offering the advice of going for some brinksmanship before offering him an eleventh-hour multi-year deal for something around last year's rate of compensation, say three years and $14 or $15 million?