Listen For the Patter of Little Feet

In a decided seller's market, free agents Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Gary Matthews have asked, and received, both big dollar and long term contracts, the J.D. Drew-less Dodgers seem to be out in the cold as far as obtaining a big bat is concerned -- barring a trade of course.

The Dodgers signed center fielder Juan Pierre to a five-year contract worth roughly $44 million, and handed a two-year, $18.5-million deal to Nomar Garciaparra.

Pierre, 29, led the National League with 204 hits last season with the Cubs and in six full major-league seasons, has stolen 50 or more bases three times.

With Rafael Furcal and his 37 steals in 2006, that gives Los Angeles a potent 1-2 punch ... er …foot at the top of the lineup.

Other speedsters available are Jason Repko (10-4), Russell Martin (10 steals) and Matt Kemp (25-5 at Jacksonville and Vegas) and Jason Werth claims he will be ready when spring training rolls around and he was the co-stolen base leader in 2005 (11-2).

Colletti, dismayed at the prices handed out to free agents like Halloween candy, said the Dodgers would explore trading for a slugger "if we can come up with a surplus of pitching" but has switched goals to focus on scoring runs much like the investment banker, "one run at a time".

That leaves him to shore up a] the pitching with Greg Maddux, Jason Schmidt and perhaps Barry Zito being targeted.

While wanna-be General Mangers insist the Dodgers need starting pitching -- and they are correct -- the 2006 starters finished fourth in the National League (behind San Diego, Houston and Florida) in earned run average.

However, the bullpen was in the middle of the pack with it's 4.12 ERA, finishing eighth in a 16-team league.

The 'pen ran the gamut of very good to, well, not very good. Recent trades have moved a number of Dodger relief pitchers who lead the National League in 2004 and 2005.

Having said, that, the club has a variety of options for 2007 that could upgrade the pen into the top quarter of the league.

Takashi Saito (2.07 ERA) and Jonathan Broxton (2.59) top the cast with a repentant Joe Beimel (2.96), Brett Tomko (3.64) and Mark Hendrickson who may have found his nitch after recording a microscopic 0.84 earned run average over his six appearances out of the bullpen after a 4.68 mark as a starter.

Factor in newcomers Greg Miller, Eric Stults, Mark Alexander (27 saves, 12+ strikeouts per nine innings for Jacksonville and Vegas) and Chris Hoorelbeke (5.25 hits per nine innings and a ,174 opponents average for Jacksonville) plus a suddenly rejuvenated Zach Hammes who aced the Arizona Fall League and you have some solid kids to sort through.

Mix in recovering Yhency Brazoban and dark-horse minor league youngsters Jonathan Meloan, Mike Megrew and Brian Akin, it should be a lively spring.

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