Dodger Inside Report -- December 17

Daisuke Matsuzaka, a big-ticket Japanese import last winter, and Hideki Okajima, a low-priced reliever who developed into an All-Star, joined the Red Sox last winter and helped pitch them to a World Series championship. Hiroki Kuroda falls somewhere between the two on the financial scale, but the Dodgers hope he will yield similar results.

   Kiroda, a Japanese right-hander, signed a three-year, $35.3 million deal with the Dodgers, who expect him to provide a major upgrade to the rotation.

   "I haven't even pitched over here yet," Kuroda said. "For a team to value me that highly, it's certainly because of the players who have come over here (from Japan) and succeeded. I'm very thankful for that. In Japanese terms, it's an unbelievable contract."

   In 11 seasons of pro ball in Japan, Kiroda was a three-time All-Star, going 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA.

   If Jason Schmidt, coming off shoulder surgery, returns to full health next season, the Dodgers figure to have a formidable rotation. Brad Penny finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting this year, and he is joined by Derek Lowe and Chad Billingsley.

--CF Andruw Jones got the long-term offers that he sought shortly after he entered the free agent market, but something was still missing.

Jones wants to win.

Rather than accepting a longer contract to play for a team that doesn't have the playoffs in its near future, Jones settled on a two-year deal to play for the Dodgers.

   Jones went through the usual routine of setting up an appointment to meet with the Dodgers. While most meetings of this type include the player, his agent and the prospective team's general manager, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and manager Joe Torre were also present. The initial meeting lasted about two hours.

"It's rare for the player to meet with the owner and manager and general manager," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "I think it gave (Jones) the opportunity to ask many different questions."

The answers Jones got were persuasive enough for him to sign the two-year deal worth $36.2 million. The deal Jones got came with an asterisk of sorts, and it wasn't the kind that's been following slugger Barry Bonds around.
"They told me that if I can show them I'm still the same Andruw, I can be here for a long time," Jones said.

Now it's up to Jones.

This won't be the first time Jones will try to improve his numbers from a previous year. He had a drop off in home runs and RBIs during the 2004 season in Atlanta and followed that up with a 51-homer, 128-RBI season in 2005.

Last season, Jones hit 26 home runs and drove in 94. His batting average was a glaring .222.

The Dodgers didn't seem too worried about those numbers.

"If you look at his age, there is less concern," Colletti said of his new 30-year-old center fielder. "He hit 25-plus (home runs) and almost 100 RBIs and (won) a Gold Glove in center field. There are a lot of players that will never reach that. Most players will never reach that. What people consider a down year, or a year that was not to his standard, it was still better than most."

Jones has already started to work on improving his statistics. He spent a week, at the conclusion of the 2007 season, watching video of himself at the plate. By comparing those videos with tapes of his previous seasons, Jones realized that his balance was off.

"I looked at stuff that sometimes you don't see during the season," Jones said. "You don't have that time to sit down and look at yourself for a week straight."

--LHP Mark Hendrickson was not tendered a contract by the Dodgers and became a free agent. Hendrickson, acquired in a midseason trade with Tampa Bay in 2006, struggled as a starting pitcher after joining the Dodgers and was demoted to the bullpen in 2006 and 2007. He was 6-15 with a 5.01 ERA for the Dodgers.

--OF Juan Pierre spoke with GM Ned Colletti about the team's acquisition of CF Andruw Jones. The signing means that Pierre will be moved from center field to left field for the 2008 season. "He only wished that he had a little bit more inkling about my thought process going back three weeks, four weeks," Colletti said. "I understood that, but at the same time, do you tell somebody something that may happen? I mean, we weren't sold on Andruw Jones right away."

--OF Matt Kemp is expected to compete with OF Andre Ethier for the Dodgers' right field job, according to general manager Ned Colletti. Though the addition of CF Andruw Jones adds one more outfielder to the mix, Colletti said he has no plans to trade Kemp. "We've all seen his potential greatness, and we're all taken by it," Colletti said. "He made great strides from the 2006 season to the 2007 season. He's somebody that's got the ability to hit for power, can steal bases and play above average in the outfield."

--2B Jeff Kent announced, as expected, that he will play for the Dodgers in 2008. Kent's option for the 2008 season, at $9 million, vested late in the 2007 season.

--RHP Tanyon Sturtze was one of several players to sign a minor league contracts with the Dodgers and receive invitations to spring training. Sturtze was a non-roster invitee of the Dodgers in 2004 and later played for Joe Torre and the Yankees.

BY THE NUMB3RS: 4 -- Players offered arbitration by the Dodgers (LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Scott Proctor, RHP Yhency Brazoban and OF Jason Repko).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'll bounce back. I haven't had bad years like I had this year, but I had previous years where my home runs were not there and my RBIs were not there, but I came back and I put it behind me." -- CF Andruw Jones, on his ability to improve on his stats from 2007.

The Dodgers went into the offseason looking for a middle-of-the-order bat and more pitching. They had added both by mid-December. Free agent CF Andruw Jones and RHP Hiroki Kuroda, a coveted Japanese import, both signed with Los Angeles.

ARRIVALS: OF Andruw Jones (free agent from Braves), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (free agent from Japan).

DEPARTURE: LHP Randy Wolf (free agent, signed with Padres).

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Dodgers could go searching for an upgrade at third base now that they have a glut of outfielders.

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 Mark Hendrickson (non-tendered).

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 their option on Lieberthal.   

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Yhency Brazoban, RHP Scott Proctor, OF Jason Repko.

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: With Jones and Juan Pierre manning two outfield slots, the team has just one position left for Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. But at the moment at least, the Dodgers are thinking of keeping all four of them.

*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. 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.