Dodgers Sign Thames, Check Out Kapler

The Dodgers, still picking around the edges of the free agent discard pile, have signed outfielder Marcus Thames and are close to signing Gabe Kapler. Chad Billingsley avoided arbitration by signing a $6.3 million contract and the winter development program is underway.

Thames, 34, and Kapler, 35, will get a chance to earn a platoon slot in left field. Thames, while playing with the Yankees last season, hit .288 with 12 home runs and 34 runs batted in in 82 games. More importantly, he batted .300 with five home runs and 14 RBIs against left-handers.

Over nine major-league seasons, including six with the Detroit Tigers, Thames has hit .248 with 113 home runs and 294 RBIs.

If Kapler signs a minor league contract with the Dodgers and makes their major league club, this will be a homecoming of sorts for the Southern California native.

Kapler had his best offensive season in 2000, when he hit .302 with 14 homers and 66 RBIs for the Texas Rangers. He retired after the 2006 season and spent the next year managing the Boston Red Sox's class-A affiliate in Greenville, S.C.

Kapler returned as a player in 2008 and 2009 with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Tampa Bay Rays, batting .210 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 140 plate appearances last season.

It's hard to get excited about a Jay Gibbons-Thames platoon, but it just might work out for the cash-strapped Dodgers who have had to borrow money from FOX to meet the bills.?

Along with Gibbons, the two would make balls hit to left field a particularly exciting prospect because all three of hem are well below reasonable standards for Major League defense.?

?Here are their lifetime stats, the right-handed Thames against lefties and the left-handed Gibbons against right-handers:?

?As in past seasons, the Dodgers are more interested in over-age castoffs than using players in their own minor league system. Xavier Paul, Trayvon Robinson and Jamie Hoffman shouldn't look for housing in Los Angeles.?

?Using Casey Blake as an outfielder or hoping Tony Gwynn Jr. hits something better than his .204 average last season are other, albeit just as fragile, options.?

Billingsley Signs
The Dodgers cut their arbitration possibilities by a third, avoiding salary arbitration with Chad Billingsley, agreeing with the young right-hander on one-year, $6.275-million contract.

Billingsley, 26, was arbitration-eligible for the second time. He earned $3.85 million last year.

According to his agent Dave Stewart, there was no discussion of the possibility of a multi-year agreement with Billingsley.

Billingsley will be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season. He was 12-11 with a 3.57 earned-run average last season and has recorded double win totals over the past four years, recording 112-5, 16-10 and two identical 12-11 records. He posted a 2.45 ERA over his last 14 starts.

That leaves only two remaining players who are eligible for arbitration: James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo. Arbitration-eligible players and teams will exchange salary figures on Tuesday if they don't reach agreement on new deals.

Workout Program Underway
The Dodgers' annual Winter Development Program brings together the team's best prospects to work out at Chavez Ravine, get media training, learn about the team's culture from its legends, and make community appearances.

It's meant for help the players, but with rookie manager Don Mattingly taking over, it's an opportunity for him to get more practice being team spokesman. It's clear Mattingly will take a much stronger hands-on approach with his players, whereas predecessor and mentor Joe Torre was often more of a CEO.

Mattingly spoke with reporters recently, his first public comments since the bulk of the offseason additions were made by general manager Ned Colletti, and acknowledged the 2011 Dodgers won't be much different than the 2010 or 2009 versions.

"Yeah, I think we'll be a good club," Mattingly said. "We had a bad second half, we didn't play the game, we didn't swing the bats at all. We're that same club, but we're also the same club in '09 and '08 (division champs). I think last year was an exception. A lot of things went wrong for a lot of guys. Maybe as a staff we didn't handle it as we should. The players have responsibilities, too."

Expect to hear a lot between now and Opening Day about a change in attitude or mindset. That's pretty standard when a team is coming off a disappointing season, doesn't change its personnel drastically and expects different results.

"I want a club that plays with toughness," he said. "One thing on the West Coast, we always have good weather, but we'll go to San Francisco and get (cold) weather. And (go to) the East Coast and get (bad) weather. I don't want us making any excuses. I want a no-excuses club coming every day prepared."

Mattingly sidestepped answering if that was missing last year.

"Last year is over for me," Mattingly said. "Last year was last year. When things go wrong, I want us to be resilient. It's about expectations. It's what the fans expect. They want to see the club play hard every day. I feel it's an obligation to the fans of L.A. and to the game of baseball. It's the way it's supposed to be played."

Mattingly consistently spun it forward when asked about the problems last year, including the player-coach conflicts involving center fielder Matt Kemp. The clashes with coaches Larry Bowa and Bob Schaefer won't happen again because they are gone, replaced by Davey Lopes and Trey Hillman.

The Lopes addition could be the Dodgers' best of the offseason. Lopes' best friend is Dave Stewart, the agent for Kemp, so the trust should be there instantly in getting the best of Kemp on the basepaths.

Mattingly downplayed the Lopes-Stewart-Kemp angle but gushed about the difference that Lopes can make with the running game. The attitude Mattingly wants is often manifested with speed on the basepaths, and Lopes will have the autonomy of an offensive coordinator.

"When Ned talked to me about the opportunity to get Davey, it was exciting to me," Mattingly said. "We've been trying for three years to work on our baserunning, get pressure on people, and we didn't seem to get through. Davey had a reputation with the guys I talked to. They all said, 'Davey's the best -- Davey's the best.' Everyone I've talked to about baserunning says this guy is the cream of the crop. I'm not going to be someone to hold this guy down."

NOTES, QUOTES
--INF Ivan DeJesus Jr. impressed new manager Don Mattingly during the Arizona Fall League, when Mattingly managed as part of his apprenticeship. Mattingly gave a review of those top prospects, which follows below. Of all the Dodgers hitters he saw, Mattingly thought DeJesus was the most prepared to hit in the majors.

--OF Jerry Sands, who hit 35 home runs between low-A and Class AA last year and has 64 in 256 minor league games, reminds Mattingly of Matt Holliday with his body type. Mattingly loves Sands' confidence, his swagger, and thinks Sands plays the outfield well.

--LHP Scott Elbert has a chance to make the Dodgers as their second lefty reliever, according to Mattingly. Elbert's lost 2010 season, which included leaving Class AAA Albuquerque for a couple of months because of personal issues, ended with a good showing in front of Mattingly in the AFL. Mattingly likes his power arm and fearless approach, which would be needed facing NL West lefties like Carlos Gonzalez.

--SS Dee Gordon wasn't in the AFL, so Mattingly hasn't seen him much. Gordon, probably headed to Class AAA Albuquerque, played well in winter ball. From what Mattingly has seen, he likes his speed and the way his hands work and is reminded of a young Omar Vizquel.

--RHP Justin Miller shares the same name with a former Dodger most known for having his body covered in tattoos. The blank-canvas Miller will be 23 this season, split last year pitching in relief between low-A Great Lakes (1.30 ERA) and Class AA Chattanooga (2.76 ERA), and impressed Mattingly in the AFL with the movement on his pitches. A good spring will put Miller in competition for a midseason promotion if reinforcements are needed.

--OF Trayvon Robinson was a late bloomer from Crenshaw High in Los Angeles, the same school that produced Darryl Strawberry. But he continues to get better every time Mattingly sees him. Robinson won't win a job in spring training, but he can force the Dodgers' hand with a strong season at Class AAA Albuquerque for later in 2011 or in 2012. He's the best pure center-field prospect in the organization.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4.6 -- Years that catcher Pat Borders was listed on the Dodgers' inactive list. Yes, that Pat Borders from the Toronto Blue Jays World Series fame. He's now 47 years old and hasn't played organized baseball since getting placed on the Dodgers inactive list on May 26, 2006. On Jan. 13, Borders was officially reinstated from the inactive list and released.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Bud Selig) always said, 'If you've had enough of this managing stuff, give me a call.' I'm not totally sure what the job is. Hopefully, when I leave (the owners' meeting), we'll be a little clearer." -- Former Dodgers manager Joe Torre on possibly taking a job in the Commissioner's Office. Torre doesn't want to leave Los Angeles, however, since his daughter just began high school and he already moved her across the country once. Torre would need to figure out a way to work for Selig without moving back to New York.

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