Dodgers Inside Pitch - October 13

The break is over. The Dodgers' top- and mid-level brass have returned to Los Angeles to plan look ahead for the 2008 season. The Dodgers suffered a meltdown during the closing weeks 2007 and had a lot of self-imposed questions to answer. After taking a week off, general manager Ned Colletti and his staff came armed with even more riddles to solve.

The team is expected to shed some part-time players, such as infielders Ramon Martinez and Olmedo Saenz, while retaining the services of infielders Shea Hillenbrand and Mark Sweeney and catcher Mike Lieberthal.

The Dodgers' real need for next season, and beyond, is a home run hitter. The Dodgers hit 132 home runs in 2007, compared to 158 the previous year. J.D. Drew and Nomar Garciaparra hit 20 home runs to lead the Dodgers in 2006. Drew also led the team with 100 RBIs.

Second baseman Jeff Kent hit 20 home runs to lead the team in 2007, however, Russell Martin, the Dodgers' RBI leader, topped out at 87.

The Dodgers could find their home run hitter in third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who could opt out of his contract with the Yankees. But the future Hall of Famer was paid $27 million in 2007 and would be looking at a substantial raise if he does leave New York.

Rodriguez's arrival could give the Dodgers some power and would help fill a gaping hole at third base. But would the rest of their pop-gun offense be able to protect him in the batting order?

Free agents Andruw Jones (Braves) and Torii Hunter (Twins) also could give the Dodgers some power, but how they would fit in a crowded outfield remains to be seen. Both players are better suited to roam center field, meaning Juan Pierre would have to agree to move to left field. That would still leave manager Grady Little with the dilemma of trying to give Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp enough playing time ... unless the Dodgers strengthen their lineup through a trade.

Rodriguez and Jones are represented by Scott Boras, so that could also throw a monkey wrench into the Dodgers' plans, especially with owner Frank McCourt already shoveling millions of dollars into renovations at Dodger Stadium this offseason.

Stay tuned.

Blue Notes
--INF Chin-Lung Hu, following a strong minor league campaign, finished with a .241 average in 12 big-league games. He hit two homers in 29 at-bats with the Dodgers. Hu batted .325 between Class AA Jacksonville and Class AAA Las Vegas in 2007.

--LHP Clayton Kershaw enhanced his status as one of the team's top prospects this year, when he moved from Class A to Class AA. Kershaw was 8-7 this season with a 2.95 ERA. He held opposing batters to a .204 average and had 163 strikeouts in 122 innings.

--RHP Roberto Hernandez will become a free agent this winter and hopes to remain in the National League. Hernandez feels that the designated-hitter rule forces him to remain unused for weeks at a time. Hernandez spent the first 3 1/2 months of the season with the Indians and pitched 26 innings in 28 games. In the final 2 1/2 months of the season with the Dodgers, he appeared in 22 games and pitched 20 1/3 innings.

--RHP Jonathan Meloan was one of the top relief pitchers in Class AA this year, but he still entertains thoughts of returning to a starting role one day. "Where a player ends up all depends on the player himself," said Marty Reed, the Dodgers' minor league pitching coordinator. "Jonathan Broxton has the stuff to be a starter, but he's doing well in the bullpen, so why move him? Chad Billingsley is just the reverse."

--RHP Takashi Saito, who has expressed an interest in returning to the Dodgers for one more season, hasn't strayed too far in the event the team wants to take advantage of his offer. Saito remained in Los Angeles in early October, and he met students at a local Japanese school. Saito earned $1 million last season and converted 39 of 43 save opportunities.

--The Dodgers put in a bid to host the World Baseball Classic in 2009.

By the Numbers: 6 -- Players on the Dodgers' roster in 2006 who appeared in the 2007 playoffs. (Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Red Sox and Eric Gagné, Red Sox; Wilson Betemit, Yankees; Kenny Lofton, Indians; Jayson Werth, Phillies),

Quotes to Note: "At some point in time, you have to play up to your full potential as a club." -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, on one of the shortcomings his team had this season.

Roster Report
The Dodgers will go into the offseason singing a familiar tune. Whether the song has a happy ending remains to be seen.

"Since I've been here, I've been singing the same refrain about a middle-of-the-order bat," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "Everybody in the league looks for pitching. We're no different. I think we're in a better spot than most clubs. But if you go back to last spring, everybody was saying we had eight starting pitchers. We needed 10. Eight wasn't near enough."

Biggest Needs: The Dodgers need a hitter who can reach the outfield walls and beyond. 2B Jeff Kent led the club with 20 home runs in 2007, which ranked last among home run leaders in the National League. The free agent market will feature some heavy hitters, but most of them are in the outfielders. The Dodgers can create some space in their outfield, but only by trading some of their up-and-coming talent.

Free Agents: INF Olmedo Saenz, INF Ramon Martinez, OF Luis Gonzalez, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP David Wells, INF Mark Sweeney, RHP Rudy Seanez, INF Shea Hillenbrand.
Saenz and Martinez struggled in 2007, which may lead to their departure from Los Angeles. That could lead the Dodgers to retain Sweeney, who is second on the all-time pinch-hit list.

Arbitration-Eligible: LHP Joe Beimel, LHP Mark Hendrickson, RHP Yhency Brazoban, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Jason Repko, RHP Chin-hui Tsao.
Beimel lost his arbitration hearing last winter but is in a much better position to come out ahead should things go that way this offseason. Beimel cut his hand and was unable to play in the 2006 postseason for the Dodgers, but he appeared in 83 games this year, becoming one of the more reliable components in the bullpen.

In Limbo: C Mike Lieberthal, OF Matt Kemp, LHP Randy Wolf.

Lieberthal is waiting to see if the Dodgers will pick up his option for $1.4 million or buy out the contract for $100,000. Chad Moeller played during the final week of the season as a tryout to be the Dodgers' backup next season.
If the Dodgers find the power they're looking for, and it happens to be in an outfielder, Kemp could find himself playing for another team next season.
Wolf is coming off of shoulder surgery, and though he would like to come back, he is waiting to see if the Dodgers will pick up his option (at $9 million).

*M*A*S*H* 4077 Report:
INF Tony Abreu (sports hernia surgery in October 2007) will recover for six to eight weeks before re-engaging in baseball activities.

SS Rafael Furcal (slightly bulging disk in back) missed the final two weeks of the 2007 season but won't need surgery for that or his sprained left ankle. Rest and rehabilitation should have him ready to go by spring training.

RHP Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgery in June 2007) could begin a throwing program early in the offseason. Early indications were that he had healed from his surgery.

OF Jason Repko (left hamstring surgery in March 2007) missed all of the 2007 season.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo (left elbow surgery in July 2007) had begun a rehab program before the end of the 2007 season.

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