Labor Day -- Dodgers May Miss Playoffs

Down to the last four weeks of play, the Dodgers are chasing two teams - the Padres and the Razorbacks - for the West Division playoff spot. And it looks for all the world that either the Mets or Phils, whichever finishes second in the east, will capture the wild card spot. So, any way you look at it, barring a miracle, the Dodgers will wind up on the outside looking in come early October.

Off-season risky player choices, injuries and age are the three culprits, followed closely be early decisions to (1) stick with released Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson in the starting rotation (instead of Chad Billingsley) and (2) to send both James Loney and Matt Kemp to Las Vegas. The Dodgers paid dearly for everything mentioned an it imploded in the three weeks after the All Star break.

Now, to paraphrase Lenin, the task remains "What Is To Be Done?"

Some of the decisions seem to have been made already. Luis Gonzalez, who seems to have lost his regular spot to either Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp, wants to reach 3,000 hits and wants to be a regular, which he won't be  with  the Dodgers.

If Randy Wolf comes back, which he might, it will depend upon his willingness to take a smaller contract with incentives.

The Dodgers are already committed to picking up Esteban Loiaza's $7 or $8 million, which we hope is insured as Loaiza is over 35 (by Mexican count), has been hurt most of this season.

The Dodgers will have to see if Rafy Furcal is fully healthy and capable of stealing bases again before it can guarantee his 15 steals the leadoff spot over Juan Pierre who has more than 50 in the two hole.

They will have to figure out what to do with brittle Nomar Garciaparra who is signed but at too much for what he produced this year. Frankly Jeff Kent, Gonzalez, Garciaparra and Olmedo Saenz are all more fit for a DH role than anything else if they remain in the big leagues.

The Dodgers were and are too old, too immobile afield, too one-armed in the outfield, too power-short at the corners. Maybe the Giants, who schooled Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, and who love oldsters, can return the favor and take back some of the Dodgers oldsters.

The Dodgers head for 2008 with severe payroll restrictions. Pierre, Furcal and Jeff Schmidt eat up too big a chunk of a $100 million payroll. Pierre and Furcal are paid as if they were power hitters and they frankly ain't.

Schmidt could just as easily become one of the worst Dodgers busts of all time if he doesn't return to health and his earlier form. His signing makes the Kevin Brown signing look more reasonable all the time.

Pitching has always been the rock on which the Dodgers have built their steady success and it is on solution of the Dodgers pitching problems on which a turnaround will be formed.

It is hard to see Roberto Hernandez back. Or Rudy Seanez. Or Mark Hendrickson. The Dodgers can hardly count on any contributions from Tsao or Kuo. Anything they get from Schmidt (or Wolf, if re-signed) has to be counted on as an extra.

The 2008 bullpen looks sound with Joe Beimel, Scott Proctor, Jonathan Broxton and save leader T. Saito, even if Saito is older than the Dodgers would like. Broxton is ready to move to the closing role any time the position opens up.

But the Dodgers begin with starters Derek Lowe (with the jump year on his contract), Brad Penny, Billingsley, Loaiza (if he is healthy). The rock of ages, David Wells, has had two okay starts in a row, and, if has two or three more, it is not inconceivable the Dodgers would offer him some kind of contract for 2008.

The snakes that bit the Dodgers in 2007 can't hide the fact that the Dodgers have many decisions already made: catcher Russell Martin, 1B Loney, SS Furcal, LF Ethier, CF Pierre and RF Kemp will start everyday - from day one (which already is team improvement).

If Jeff Kent doesn't come back, maybe Garciaparra could make yet another move, this time to second. But the Dodgers somehow have to get more pop out of third base.

Shea Hillenbrand is a useful guy and he could replace Saenz as the right-hand pinch-hitter and infield jack of two trades, i.e., first and third.

Surely the Dodgers will look hard and deep at both Miami and Tampa, two low budget teams with either a glut of players or players moving into mid range salaries too expensive to keep. 

Either Tampa outfieder Johnny Gomes or Florida Marlins 2B Dan Uggla would look mighty nice in Chavez Ravine. The Marlins should frankly have traded lefty Dontrelle Willis earlier when his value (and skills) were higher.

Two years ago, the Dodgers began off season moves a month or two behind everybody else with the time it took to decide on and then bring Ned Colletti on board.

One  year ago, the team made some risky decisions they maybe shouldn't have made. This year, they, hopefully, are older and wiser - the decision makers that is, not the players.  

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