Dodgers Inside Pitch - November 30

The Dodgers were determined to "stay the course" after their 2007 season turned into a disaster, vowing to remain true to their younger players. They might not have a choice. With their chances of landing a middle-of-the-order bat dwindling each day, the Dodgers might find that elusive big hitter in their own system

. "We're talking about 20 to 25 home runs," general manager Ned Colletti said. "Between our right fielder (Matt Kemp) and first baseman (James Loney), we might be able to do that now."

As convenient as that sounds, Kemp and Loney were not Colletti's first, second or third choices. Colletti had his eye on free agent outfielders Aaron Rowand, Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones, all of whom would have looked good in the Dodgers' outfield.

Their rivals from neighboring Orange County put an end to one of those options when they signed Hunter to a five-year deal worth $90 million. The Angels' offer was $15 million more than the White Sox had offered. The offer not only pulled Hunter from the clutches of the White Sox, but it also raised the price on a slugging free agent outfielder. The price increase pushed Jones and Rowand into a neighborhood that the Dodgers would rather avoid.

Colletti is now turning his attention to the up-and-coming players on the team, all of who have less than two years of major league experience.

Kemp hit 10 home runs last season. Loney hit nine of his 15 home runs during the final month of the season. Can they keep those numbers up? Colletti is counting on Kemp, Loney, catcher Russell Martin, outfielder Andre Ethier and third baseman Andy LaRoche, should he win the job in spring training, to get better.

"We have two outfielders, a first baseman and a catcher," Colletti said. "They have really come into their own. They are still reasonably young, but they have almost two years of big-league experience and two pennant races."

As much as the Dodgers wanted to remain loyal to their younger players, Colletti would not have shied away from trading one or two for the right player. The only problem with that plan was that most teams were asking for three or four of the Dodgers' bright young stars.

"I don't believe in making a deal just to make a deal," Colletti said. "But if the right scenario presents itself, we'll be on it."

In this case, however, Colletti isn't holding his breath.

Colletti has explained the situation to manager Joe Torre, who doesn't have a problem in working with younger players. He got success out of Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams, who took their version of baseball's baby steps under Torre's care.

"One thing about players with little experience is that there are going to be mistakes," Torre said. "My philosophy is you have to make mistakes and learn from them."

Notes and Quotes--
--2B Jeff Kent is still mum on his decision about whether he'll return in 2008, though GM Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre expect to see him at spring training. Colletti said he has spoken with Jeffrey Klein, Kent's agent, and is optimistic about having the veteran second baseman exercise his option. "He wants to play," Colletti said. "Not once did I hear an indication that Jeff Kent is retiring. If he had a change of heart, I would have heard about it."

--RHP James McDonald, who was honored as the Dodgers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year, was added to the team's 40-man roster.

--RHP Brad Penny, who finished third in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award, averaged 6.30 innings per start in 2007 to lead the team. Penny improved over the previous season, when he averaged 5.72 innings per start.

--Free agent C Rene Rivera signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers and appears to be the front-runner to back up Russell Martin heading into spring training. Mike Lieberthal and Chad Moeller (who recently signed with Washington, who finished the 2007 season in Los Angeles, are free agents, leaving the door open for Rivera.

--RHP Chad Billingsley finished the 2007 season in much better shape than the Dodgers did. Billingsley went 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA in his six September starts. The Dodgers lost 10 of their final 13 games and fell out of playoff contention in the final two weeks of the season.

By the Numbe3rs: 192 -- The distance (in feet) expected to be between home plate and the left field foul pole when the baseball field is erected at the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Dodgers' exhibition game against the Red Sox on March 29. It will be the first baseball game at the Coliseum since the Dodgers played there in 1961.

Quote to Note: "Manny (Ramirez) is liable to hit it with his bat." -- Dodgers manager Joe Torre, on the short distance from home plate to the net that will make up the left field wall when the Dodgers and Red Sox play an exhibition game at the L.A. Coliseum. The net will be 256 feet away from home plate in the left-center field gap.

Roster Report
The Dodgers went 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, C Mike Lieberthal, LHP Randy Wolf.

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. The Dodgers declined options on Lieberthal and Wolf.

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.

Medical Watch
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. He was sidelined for a week in October in the Arizona Fall League due to a right ankle injury.

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

High Cost of Trading: Angels owner Arte Moreno said he thought the Angels had a deal in place for Miguel Cabrera on two occasions this month, but the deals fell apart because the Marlins wanted more in return, reported the Los Angeles Times. "They came back and asked for more," Moreno told the Times. "They're doing it to everybody. ... [The Marlins] maneuvered us against the Dodgers." The Times said the Marlins asked the Dodgers for first baseman James Loney, outfielder Matt Kemp and top pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw. Some feel their next move would have upped the ante by asking for the parking rights at Dodger Stadium or Frank and Jamie McCourt's first born.

Phoenix Bound: Tony Jackson, writing in the Los Angeles Daily News, noted: "Why the Dodgers are holding off announcing that they plan to spend the final two weeks of spring training in Phoenix is beyond me. Add the Colorado Rockies, who are scheduled to host the Dodgers on March 23 at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, to the growing list of Cactus League clubs that have finalized their spring schedules with the Dodgers listed as one of their opponents. The Dodgers also have games scheduled with the Chicago White Sox on March 20 and Kansas City on March 26. But when the Dodgers do finally announce this, just humor them and pretend to be surprised, OK?"

Negotiating: The Dodgers are working toward an agreement with right-hander Brian Shackleford, 30, who pitched briefly for Cincinnati in 2005 and 2006 and split the 2007 season between the Triple-A affiliates of Cincinnati and Tampa Bay.

Signings: Along with signing Chad Moeller, Washington signed infielder Antonio Perez. Texas released OF Victor Diaz, Houston signed OF Jose Cruz, Detroit signed RHP Aquilino Lopez, the Mets signed infielder David Newhan and Tampa Bay signed OF Jon Walker.

Sad News-- B. L. Jacobsen reports with all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is worth reflecting on the death of a very important person, which almost went unnoticed last week. Larry LaPrise, the man that wrote "The Hokie Pokey" died peacefully at the age of 93. The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started ...

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