Billings a Bit Short Of 'Ace' Ranking

The Dodgers, who spent all of last season and a good portion of this one underachieving, found out how good they really were in September, getting hot just in time to storm their way to the National League West title and their first playoff series victory in 20 years.

What they also found out in dropping four of five to Philadelphia in the NL Championship Series was that Chad Billingsley, who had spent most of the regular season and the NL Division Series doing an uncanny impersonation of a staff ace, still needs a little seasoning. And that until he gets it, the Dodgers still need a veteran starter or two to put in front of him in the rotation.

That is where this winter figures to get a little dicey.

The Dodgers are expected to lose Derek Lowe to free agency. They are not expected to exercise the $9.25 million contract option on Brad Penny. So a club that relies heavily on solid starting pitching will have to put a premium on getting more of it.

Offensively, the Dodgers went from mediocre to good with the trading-deadline acquisitions of Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. But with both of those players free agents and neither of them a lock to be re-signed, will the Dodgers go right back to being mediocre?

On the plus side, the core of young players got not only another year of experience, but an incredible year of it. Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier learned that they were capable of getting deep into October, presumably creating a hunger to get even deeper next fall.

Kemp and Ethier also gave themselves a reason to be even cockier than they already are. They played so well early in the season that they forced veteran Juan Pierre and eventually veteran Andruw Jones to the bench.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Broxton took the closer role from veteran Takashi Saito by default. While Saito spent much of the second half nursing an elbow injury, Broxton, formerly the eighth-inning setup guy, became an effective if not-always-reliable closer. By the NLCS, when Saito didn't even make the roster, the job all but belonged to Broxton.

Notes & Quotes --RHP Chad Billingsley led the team with 16 regular-season victories. However, his inability to get out of the third inning in either of his two NLCS starts, coupled with his inability (or unwillingness) to retaliate when two Dodgers hitters were brushed back in Game 1, mean he has a lot to prove to his teammates next season. Billingsley is not yet eligible for arbitration.

--INF Blake DeWitt might have been the Dodgers' feel-good story of the year. A rookie who initially wasn't even invited to major league spring training, he wound up starting 109 games, including all eight in the playoffs. DeWitt hit .264 and figures to begin next season as the Dodgers' everyday second baseman.

--C Russell Martin made his second consecutive NL All-Star team. But there were whispers within the organization that Martin had gotten lazier behind the plate, and that was borne out in the fact that he often reached across his body for wild pitches rather than trying to block them.

Martin's average dropped 34 points after the All-Star break, and opposing baserunners were successful stealing against him 80.5 percent of the time, as opposed to 70 percent in 2007.

The New York Post says the Dodgers may shop Martin now that the market for catchers is so weak. The Post believes the Dodgers are not happy with the make up of Martin, and may explore the market to see his value. The Tigers, Reds, and Red Sox are all in the market for a catcher and could make a play for him.

The whole story is extremely diifficult to believe. While Martin doesn't hit for power, he has a solid average and the respect of his pitchers. It is unlikely that the Dodgers trade him if for no other reason they have no catching prospects waiting in the wings.

It is possible that Martin will be come arbitration-eligible, therefore you will hear a number of things from both the Dodgers and Martin's agent as they posture for position.

--LF Manny Ramirez batted .426 (12-for-26) in the postseason, with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight games. Ramirez's acquisition on July 31, after which he batted .396 for the remainder of the regular season, effectively turned around the Dodgers' fortunes. The club was 54-54 when Ramirez arrived and went 30-24 the rest of the way.

--RF Andre Ethier had a monstrous second half. His .335 average after the break including a .462 showing in September, and he hit seven home runs and drove in 13 runs in August. But Ethier hit just .188 (6-for-32) in the postseason without a single RBI.

Quote to Note: "I think we brought winning back to this organization. I think we turned a corner, and I think there will be more and more years that this organization will be playing this kind of important baseball in the month of October. It has been a great year." -- Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, speaking in the team's clubhouse minutes after a Game 5 loss that ended the Dodgers' first trip to the NLCS since 1988.

By the Numb3rs: 7 -- Double plays grounded into by the Dodgers in the NLCS, tying a record for a five-game NLCS that also had been held by the Dodgers in their five-game victory over Montreal in 1981, when the series was still best-of-five. Rookie Blake DeWitt grounded into two of them in the finale, each with runners on first and second. DeWitt also hit into an inning-ending double play in Game 4, also with runners on first and second.

Roster Report
The Dodgers figure to be a dramatically different team next season. Although the core of young players remains under organizational control, there could be a slew of free agent defections among the veterans. One of the biggest decisions of the winter will be whether to pony up whatever it will take to re-sign LF Manny Ramirez or to spend that money on a host of other acquisitions that could make the team better as a whole.

Biggest Needs: The Dodgers must add a starting pitcher. RHPs Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux are free agents, and RHP Brad Penny appears to have worn out his welcome after he and manager Joe Torre made what Torre called a mutual decision for Penny not to have him stick around for the playoffs when he wasn't able to pitch because of shoulder problems. The Dodgers probably will decline Penny's option, making the two-time All-Star a free agent, as well.

Free Agents: LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Greg Maddux, RHP Chan Ho Park, 3B Casey Blake, SS Rafael Furcal, INF Nomar Garciaparra, 2B Jeff Kent, INF Mark Sweeney, LF Manny Ramirez.

Kent probably will retire, Lowe probably isn't interested in returning, and Garciaparra isn't likely to be invited back because of his history of injuries. Furcal could be back, and his asking price figures to be dramatically reduced by the fact he missed most of the season with a back injury.

Beimel will test the market, but he probably will return. Blake is a small-town guy from Iowa who enjoyed playing close to home in Cleveland, so Los Angeles probably isn't a long-term destination for him. Ramirez is believed to be seeking about $20 million per year on the open market.

Arbitration Eligible: RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Scott Proctor.

Once the Super-2 list comes out, C Russell Martin and OF Andre Ethier could be joining Broxton, who is a first-timer, and Proctor, who avoided arbitration last winter by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $1,115,000 contract.

In Limbo: OF Juan Pierre appears to be untradeable with three years and $28.5 million left on his contract. But if he isn't dealt, it won't be for a lack of trying. The emergence of OFs Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have reduced the once-valuable Pierre to a speedy fourth outfielder and left-handed pinch hitter, hardly making him worth what he is being paid. Billings a Bit Short Of 'Ace' Ranking Exciting off-season predicted for club The Dodgers, who spent all of last season and a good portion of this one underachieving, found out how good they really were in September, getting hot just in time to storm their way to the National League West title and their first playoff series victory in 20 years. What they also found out in dropping four of five to Philadelphia in the NL Championship Series was that Chad Billingsley, who had spent most of the regular season and the NL Division Series doing an uncanny impersonation of a staff ace, still needs a little seasoning. And that until he gets it, the Dodgers still need a veteran starter or two to put in front of him in the rotation.

That is where this winter figures to get a little dicey.

The Dodgers are expected to lose Derek Lowe to free agency. They are not expected to exercise the $9.25 million contract option on Brad Penny. So a club that relies heavily on solid starting pitching will have to put a premium on getting more of it.

Offensively, the Dodgers went from mediocre to good with the trading-deadline acquisitions of Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez. But with both of those players free agents and neither of them a lock to be re-signed, will the Dodgers go right back to being mediocre?

On the plus side, the core of young players got not only another year of experience, but an incredible year of it. Russell Martin, James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier learned that they were capable of getting deep into October, presumably creating a hunger to get even deeper next fall.

Kemp and Ethier also gave themselves a reason to be even cockier than they already are. They played so well early in the season that they forced veteran Juan Pierre and eventually veteran Andruw Jones to the bench.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Broxton took the closer role from veteran Takashi Saito by default. While Saito spent much of the second half nursing an elbow injury, Broxton, formerly the eighth-inning setup guy, became an effective if not-always-reliable closer. By the NLCS, when Saito didn't even make the roster, the job all but belonged to Broxton.

Notes & Quotes --RHP Chad Billingsley led the team with 16 regular-season victories. However, his inability to get out of the third inning in either of his two NLCS starts, coupled with his inability (or unwillingness) to retaliate when two Dodgers hitters were brushed back in Game 1, mean he has a lot to prove to his teammates next season. Billingsley is not yet eligible for arbitration.

--INF Blake DeWitt might have been the Dodgers' feel-good story of the year. A rookie who initially wasn't even invited to major league spring training, he wound up starting 109 games, including all eight in the playoffs. DeWitt hit .264 and figures to begin next season as the Dodgers' everyday second baseman.

--C Russell Martin made his second consecutive NL All-Star team. But there were whispers within the organization that Martin had gotten lazier behind the plate, and that was borne out in the fact that he often reached across his body for wild pitches rather than trying to block them.

Martin's average dropped 34 points after the All-Star break, and opposing baserunners were successful stealing against him 80.5 percent of the time, as opposed to 70 percent in 2007.

The New York Post says the Dodgers may shop Martin now that the market for catchers is so weak. The Post believes the Dodgers are not happy with the make up of Martin, and may explore the market to see his value. The Tigers, Reds, and Red Sox are all in the market for a catcher and could make a play for him.

This is very difficult to believe. While Martin doesn't hit for power, he has a solid average and the respect of his pitchers. It is unlikely that the Dodgers trade him if for no other reason they have no catching prospects waiting in the wings.

It is possible that Martin will be come arbitration-eligible, therefore you will hear a number of things from both the Dodgers and Martin's agent as they posture for position.

--LF Manny Ramirez batted .426 (12-for-26) in the postseason, with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight games. Ramirez's acquisition on July 31, after which he batted .396 for the remainder of the regular season, effectively turned around the Dodgers' fortunes. The club was 54-54 when Ramirez arrived and went 30-24 the rest of the way.

--RF Andre Ethier had a monstrous second half. His .335 average after the break including a .462 showing in September, and he hit seven home runs and drove in 13 runs in August. But Ethier hit just .188 (6-for-32) in the postseason without a single RBI.

Quote to Note: "I think we brought winning back to this organization. I think we turned a corner, and I think there will be more and more years that this organization will be playing this kind of important baseball in the month of October. It has been a great year." -- Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, speaking in the team's clubhouse minutes after a Game 5 loss that ended the Dodgers' first trip to the NLCS since 1988.

By the Numb3rs: 7 -- Double plays grounded into by the Dodgers in the NLCS, tying a record for a five-game NLCS that also had been held by the Dodgers in their five-game victory over Montreal in 1981, when the series was still best-of-five. Rookie Blake DeWitt grounded into two of them in the finale, each with runners on first and second. DeWitt also hit into an inning-ending double play in Game 4, also with runners on first and second.

Roster Report
The Dodgers figure to be a dramatically different team next season. Although the core of young players remains under organizational control, there could be a slew of free agent defections among the veterans. One of the biggest decisions of the winter will be whether to pony up whatever it will take to re-sign LF Manny Ramirez or to spend that money on a host of other acquisitions that could make the team better as a whole.

Biggest Needs: The Dodgers must add a starting pitcher. RHPs Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux are free agents, and RHP Brad Penny appears to have worn out his welcome after he and manager Joe Torre made what Torre called a mutual decision for Penny not to have him stick around for the playoffs when he wasn't able to pitch because of shoulder problems. The Dodgers probably will decline Penny's option, making the two-time All-Star a free agent, as well. Free Agents: LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Greg Maddux, RHP Chan Ho Park, 3B Casey Blake, SS Rafael Furcal, INF Nomar Garciaparra, 2B Jeff Kent, INF Mark Sweeney, LF Manny Ramirez.

Kent probably will retire, Lowe probably isn't interested in returning, and Garciaparra isn't likely to be invited back because of his history of injuries. Furcal could be back, and his asking price figures to be dramatically reduced by the fact he missed most of the season with a back injury.

Beimel will test the market, but he probably will return. Blake is a small-town guy from Iowa who enjoyed playing close to home in Cleveland, so Los Angeles probably isn't a long-term destination for him. Ramirez is believed to be seeking about $20 million per year on the open market.

Arbitration Eligible: RHP Jonathan Broxton, RHP Scott Proctor.

Once the Super-2 list comes out, C Russell Martin and OF Andre Ethier could be joining Broxton, who is a first-timer, and Proctor, who avoided arbitration last winter by agreeing to terms on a one-year, $1,115,000 contract.

In Limbo: OF Juan Pierre appears to be untradeable with three years and $28.5 million left on his contract. But if he isn't dealt, it won't be for a lack of trying. The emergence of OFs Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have reduced the once-valuable Pierre to a speedy fourth outfielder and left-handed pinch hitter, hardly making him worth what he is being paid.

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