Will Dodgers Take Swing at Fielder?

Another week with Prince Fielder still on the free-agent market, and more billionaires lining up to potentially buy the Dodgers in an auction, led to another round of "will the Dodgers make a late run at Fielder?" questions. "We're not going to talk about that," owner Frank McCourt told the Los Angeles Times at the Major League Baseball owners' meetings in Arizona on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, general manager Ned Colletti was more definitive when meeting with reporters on the first day of the Dodgers annual Winter Development Mini-Camp for the team's best prospects.

"I don't see it; not at the moment," said Colletti, who was asked about a big bat, but not Fielder by name. "Our payroll is what it is." The payroll is well under $100 million, closer to $90 million in fact, entering the season. But with a new owner expected to be approved by late April, Colletti is targeting the trading deadline as his time to begin spending the new owner's money.

"We really need the players we have to play to their potential," Colletti said. "We're in a decent spot to be competitive and make more decisions in July."

One of the key players who needs to play to his potential is infielder Juan Uribe. Colletti personally went to the Dominican Republic to visit with Uribe this winter.

Colletti reported that Uribe knows he under-performed last season and understands the expectations for him. With the departure of Casey Blake, Uribe goes from the starting second baseman to the starting third baseman. That's a change for the preseason forecasts, but injuries to Blake forced Uribe to play more third base last year and he profiles much better at that position defensively.

Many players struggle adapting to a new team after signing as a free agent to the largest contract of their lives. Uribe was no different, getting $21 million guaranteed from the Dodgers to leave the San Francisco Giants.

The Dodgers-Giants rivalry, and all the talk about switching sides, no doubt added to the pressure Uribe felt and affected his performance. If Uribe can't stay healthy or struggles again, the Dodgers don't have much at third base. There's Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston, but those are viewed as complementary pieces, not starters.

Third base remains a weak position in the Dodgers farm system.

Uribe isn't the only player who needs a bounce-back season.

Right fielder Andre Ethier is even more important. He'll be a free agent after the season, he's coming off knee surgery and the Dodgers sound more adamant that Ethier won't be starting against left-handers if he continues to struggle against them.

"When we talk about the club, it's a lot like last year," manager Don Mattingly said. "We have to stay healthy and have the guys doing what they're capable of doing. If they do, we're going to look like a pretty good offensive club."

--With only about a month until pitchers and catchers report for Spring training we trudge into the depths of January. That means that salary arbitration hearings are approaching. On Friday 142 MLB players filed for arbitration. The filing window is normally three days in length which started on Friday and ends today. The Dodgers have three players that filed for arbitration: Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier and James Loney.

--RHP Rubby De La Rosa is healing on schedule from Tommy John surgery. He's throwing free and easy on flat ground from 60 feet and is optimistic for a return to the majors late in July or early in August. If he does return this year, it would be as relief pitcher. The Dodgers still believe he's a starting pitcher over the long haul.

--INF Justin Sellers sustained a serious groin pull while playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. Sellers isn't 100 percent, but he was turning double plays with expected starting shortstop Dee Gordon at the team's winter development mini-camp. Sellers' chances of making the Opening Day roster are slim after the team signed Mark Ellis to start at second base, then Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston to come off the bench.

--OF Alex Castellanos, acquired for Rafael Furcal at the trading deadline, worked a little at second base during the mini-camp. The Dodgers still view him an outfielder, but want to increase his versatility.

--RHP Blake Hawksworth underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow this week. It's an unusual time in the offseason to have a surgery. It's likely a four-to-six week recovery. Hawksworth will be slightly behind the rest of the pitching staff when spring training begins. Since he's a reliever, he doesn't need as much time to get ready as a starting pitcher would. When the inevitable roster crunch arrives in late March, it's possible the Dodgers might elect to have Hawksworth do a minor league rehab to start the season, buying time on a tough roster decision.

--3B Coach Tim Wallach and his family will be given the Ray Boone Family Award at a banquet at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel. Oldest son Matt (age 25) was a catcher for the Dodgers Double-A Chattanooga affiliate and participated in last week's Winter Development Minicamp. Middle son Brett (age 23) struggled on the mound in his first year in the Cubs' organization, after being traded by the Dodgers in the 2010 deal that netted Ted Lilly. Youngest son Chad (age 20) was drafted in the 43rd round last year, but returned for another year of catching at Cal State Fullerton.

--Vin Scully resisted for years and years to have a bobblehead doll in his honor, despite numerous requests and pleas from adoring Dodgers fans. He's finally relented, and the Voice of Summer will be immortalized on Aug. 30 against the Diamondbacks. Expect that game to sellout as quickly as Opening Day, once individual tickets go on sale.

BY THE NUMBERS: 22 -- The day in February that Dodgers pitchers and catchers will report for spring training. They will be the last team in the National League to report, although the reality is most players arrive well in advance of the official reporting date. First exhibition game is against their co-tenant in Glendale, the White Sox, on March 5. Regular season opener is April 5 in San Diego. Home opener is April 10 against the Pirates.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not really. I love Manny but he was a huge distraction the last time he was here. I don't think that's what our clubhouse needs at this moment." -- Manager Don Mattingly, on whether the Dodgers are interested in signing Manny Ramirez.