Dodgers Search For Another Catcher

Two years ago, many believed Russell Martin was the best catcher in the National League. He was the future of the franchise and certainly the face of the present. Recently, he was non-tendered. While it's still possible he returns, it's likely Martin played his last game as a Dodgers in early August, when landed awkwardly on his hip and missed the rest of the season.

Combine the uncertainty of returning from that injury, along with 2 1/2 unproductive seasons and a salary of $5.05 million last year, and it's not hard to see why the Dodgers cut ties with the two-time All-Star.

The Dodgers tried in earnest to trade him in the last week but couldn't find any acceptable offers. By rule, the biggest pay cut the Dodgers could offer was 20 percent, or $4.04 million. The final offer from Martin's camp was $5 million, plus incentives.

Left-handed reliever George Sherrill and outfielder Trent Oeltjen were also non-tendered. None of the non-tender decisions was a surprise, although the reality of Martin departing is still odd when you consider just how good he was in 2007 and the first half of 2008.

Many in the organization felt Martin got lazy and overly home-run conscious. He admitted to spending too much time out in 2008, moved in with his girlfriend, watched his diet, and reporting to spring training in 2009 dramatically slimmer. When that didn't work, he gained back a ton of weight before the 2010 season.

None of it seemed to help. His defense lapsed and his power never came back. Then came the injury, and now he's a free agent.

After signing Jon Garland and Juan Uribe over the last week, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said his top priority was to "rectify" the catching position.

The Dodgers have inquired about almost every free agent catcher, from Miguel Olivo and Jason Varitek, to A.J. Pierzynski and Rod Barajas.

Yorvit Torrealba and John Buck are off the free agent market, and it appeared Pierzynski was close to re-signing with the White Sox.

A.J. Ellis, a 26-year-old rookie last year, isn't ready to be an everyday starter. The tandem of Ellis and Barajas was acceptable in the final five weeks, and it appears those will be the Opening Day catchers.

The Dodgers are close to re-signing Barajas, who grew up a Dodgers fan in Southern California and thrived after the Dodgers claimed him off waivers from the Mets in late August. In other areas, Colletti would still like to add "a bullpen piece or two," and he'll look at left field options. For now, left field would be filled by a combination of Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul, with prospects Trayvon Robinson and Jerry Sands nearing major league ready status.

"Left field is something I'd like to improve if possible," Colletti said. "We still have a lot of work to do to get better in other positions."

In rebuilding a team coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti is raiding from the rosters of his National League West rivals.

After signing pitcher Jon Garland from the Padres, Colletti signed infielder Juan Uribe from the World Series champion Giants to a three-year, $21 million contract. The Dodgers like Uribe's power and his ability to play third base, shortstop or second base.

Uribe will play mostly second base in 2011. He could switch to third base or shortstop in 2012, when Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal's three-year contracts expire, or earlier if Blake's offensive struggles continue.

The Dodgers still have Jamey Carroll to play third, short and second as well. That insurance is needed because Furcal has missed so many games the last three years, and Blake is coming off his worst season since becoming an everyday player.

The acquisition of Uribe allowed the Dodgers to trade second baseman Ryan Theriot to the Cardinals for swingman Blake Hawksworth. Theriot was a likely non-tender candidate. Instead, the Dodgers received a pitcher with starting and relieving experience who is still under team control.

"Every offseason is different," said Colletti, who's been the most active GM this winter. "We had specific needs that were greater and more obvious than in the past. The free agent market was thin. If we didn't get who we needed quick, we'd be left out. We made strong efforts early. We didn't get everybody we pursued."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Dodgers will not, repeat WILL NOT, trade James Loney and Jonathan Broxton to Milwaukee for Prince Fielder, as rumors have indicated.

--RHP Vicente Padilla, the Dodgers' Opening Day starter this year, could still return to the Dodgers. They have five starting pitchers but would like a veteran swingman who can slide into the rotation in case of injury and still pitch out of the bullpen. The Dodgers believe Padilla's live arm and nasty sinkerball could even make him a effective late inning reliever.

--RHP Blake Hawksworth, acquired from the Cardinals for INF Ryan Theriot, went 4-8 with a 4.98 ERA for the Cardinals. He pitched 90 1/3 innings over 37 appearances, eight were starts. One of the starts was against the Dodgers on June 7, when he allowed six runs on 10 baserunners in four innings. In 2009, as a reliever exclusively, Hawksworth compiled a 2.03 ERA and 1.1 WHIP.

--Coach Manny Mota was instrumental in recruiting Juan Uribe. The longtime Dodgers player and coach visited Uribe in the Dominican Republic and helped sell Uribe on the organization.

--RHP Jesse Crain and RHP Matt Guerrier are free agent relievers who are high on the Dodgers' shopping list. They also had an interest in RHP Jason Frasor, before he accepted the Blue Jays' arbitration offer.

--LF Johnny Damon, a free agent outfielder, is an outfielder the Dodgers have discussed internally for left field. But the price would need to be right for the 37-year-old since he no longer runs much and is coming off a .271/.355/.401 slash line with the Tigers. Damon is 429 hits from 3,000 for his career.

--LHP Eric Stults, whose rights were sold to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp last March, signed a minor-league contract with the Rockies. Stults would get paid $435,000 if he makes the Rockies' Opening Day roster but also has an option to return to Japan. Stults went 6-10 with a 5.07 ERA in 21 starts for the Carp last year.

--Former Dodgers manager, Jim Tracy, now the manager of the Colorado Rockies, collapsed at the Winter Meetings and was rushed to the hospital. He was alert and responsive and was able to stand with assistance before being taken out of the hotel on a stretcher, according to MLB.com. Tracy was undergoing tests as late as 2:30 a.m. ET, and a diagnosis has not yet been made, The Denver Post reported on its website. Tracy, who turns 55 on Dec. 31, had driven to the meetings from his home in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., about two hours away, according to MLB.com. He had spoken with reporters at about 6 p.m. ET Monday. Tracy was named National League Manager of the Year in 2009 after taking over the Rockies in May of that year and leading them to the postseason. The Rockies finished third in the NL West last season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 46 -- Players who have worn both the Giants and Dodgers uniforms since 1988. Newly signed infielder Juan Uribe will become the 47th on Opening Day, when the Dodgers play host to the Giants in Los Angeles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have nothing bad to say about the Giants. I was very happy with the Giants and how the fans treated me. They showed a lot of affection. I was very appreciative of the opportunity. As far as leaving, I had no control over that. I was happy to be with them." -- Former Giant Juan Uribe, on signing with the rival Dodgers

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