Dodgers Have Work to Do at Winter Meetings

The Dodgers will go to the winter meetings on Monday in Las Vegas with their offseason priorities largely unchanged, mostly because they have yet to make a significant move since being eliminated from the National League playoffs. Those who were originally hoping they would sign Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia, now wonder if they will sign either of them.

The club's first priority, even as it still waits to hear from representatives for free agent outfielder Manny Ramirez, is starting pitching. But while the Dodgers have been widely reported to be one of three clubs, along with San Francisco and the New York Yankees, vying for the services of CC Sabathia, the big left-hander still seems a little beyond the price range of a Dodgers team that still would have several other areas to address.

The Dodgers' pursuit of a starting pitcher, then, might end up taking them in the direction of an aging veteran willing to accept a one-year deal, possibly Randy Johnson or Trevor Hoffman.

Another priority is the infield, where shortstop Rafael Furcal appears unwilling to accept the Dodgers' overtures of an incentive-laden contract, probably for two years, designed to protect the club in the event Furcal continues to be sidelined or hampered by injuries -- as he was for most of the last two seasons.

At this point, Furcal's choices appear to be the A's or Dodgers, with the Orioles as the most likely third team.

If the Dodgers can make up for losing Furcal's bat by adding offense at another position, they might be inclined to give one of their three backup infielders, Angel Berroa, Chin-lung Hu or Tony Abreu, a shot at the everyday job.

Notes and Quotes
--Ramirez was offered arbitration by the Dodgers before the deadline, but no one in the organization expects him to accept it. The move was made primarily to secure two extra first-round picks in next summer's draft. If Ramirez signs with another club and that club was among the top 15 teams in the majors this year in terms of winning percentage, the Dodgers would get both a regular first-round pick and a sandwich pick for losing Ramirez. --RHP Derek Lowe was offered arbitration to enable the Dodgers to get the compensatory draft picks if he goes elsewhere. A Type A free agent, Lowe is all but assured of signing elsewhere, a fact that was made clear when he put his Southern California home up for sale near the end of the season. Lowe is believed to have a desire to play closer to his Michigan home, although the world champion Philadelphia Phillies are one of the clubs known to have interest but have been reluctant to go beyond three years on any pitcher they've talked about this winter. And remember that during the NLCS, Lowe made it clear he wasn't pleased with pitching at Citizens Bank Park.

--3B Casey Blake, a Type B free agent, was offered arbitration. There were reports recently that the Dodgers might be closing in on re-signing Blake, and his agent, Jim McDowell, was quoted as saying the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins are the frontrunners for his client's services. The Dodgers have yet to make an offer, while the Twins reportedly have offered Blake a two-year deal worth about $6 million each season with an option for 2011. It seems as if the first club to offer a three-year contract will get him, but both clubs are leery of offering that sort of deal to a 36-year-old infielder.

--SS Rafael Furcal, as are all free agents, is looking for a four-year contract. The Dodgers are interested to the extent that they would like to sign him to a shorter term with incentive bonuses. Furcal's decision could have an impact on what happens to Blake. The Dodgers appear to be focused on adding offense either at shortstop or third base. So if Furcal signs with the A's, the Dodgers might have to step up their pursuit of Blake. If they lose out on both, they'd be likely to turn to the trade market at third base and even if they don't bring back Furcal.

--SS Jack Wilson is of interest to the Dodgers according to the Associated Press with one hang-up being his $7.25 million salary for next season. Los Angeles apparently wants the Pirates to pick up a substantial share of Wilson's salary, a problem because Pittsburgh has little organizational depth at shortstop and has no prospect ready to take his place. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review say the Pirates are willing to trade for SS Chin-Lung Hu and OF Delwyn Young. Wilson batted .272 with one homer and 22 RBIs last season, when he was limited to 87 games due to a strained calf and a broken finger. The Tigers have reportedly sweetened their offer to the Pirates, perhaps including one of their top pitching prospects. It was not immediately clear whether the Dodgers were willing to improve their bid.

--RHP Trevor Hoffman, 41, may be in the Dodgers plans. They are searching for a veteran to bring leadership to a young pitching staff, a role that veteran pitcher Greg Maddux filled last season after Los Angeles acquired him from the Padres. One of the Dodgers' top baseball officials has apparently inquired about Hoffman's intangibles and what value he might bring to young pitchers, The Dodger have an exceptionally young bullpen, plus a youthful starting rotation. They are interested in veterans who can contribute on and off the mound. Takashi Saito, 39, has been the Dodgers' primary closer the past three seasons and, like Hoffman, is a free agent. An elbow injury caused Saito to miss two months of the 2008 season, and the Dodgers left him off their roster for the National League Championship Series. Elbow injuries such as his often require surgery. In mid-October, the Padres offered Hoffman a $4 million salary for 2009 without performance bonuses and a $4 million club option for 2010 without a buyout but last month General Manager Kevin Towers took the offer was off the table and declined to offer salary arbitration. As a result, if a team signs Hoffman, who is a Type A free agent, it would not forfeit a draft pick.

--SS Juan Castro might be on the verge of rejoining the Dodgers. The club has offered a minor-league contract to the veteran shortstop, who if he accepts would have a strong chance of making the club as a backup infielder. Castro came up in the organization, but never established a foothold and was shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the big leagues so many times between 1995 and 1999 that by the time he was traded to Cincinnati in April 2000, he had accrued enough major-league service time to achieve arbitration eligibility despite a grand total of 432 big-league at-bats. He's a defensively gifted infielder with a lifetime average of .228, but he is a consummate professional and would be a strong addition to the clubhouse, according to Tony Jackson of the LA Daily News.

--3B Andy LaRoche is smiling after the Commissioner announced the the Dodgers' full playoff shares were worth $102,793.54 each. The team awarded were 49 full shares, 5.797 partial shares and 22 cash awards. It is not known what share LaRoche received but he did get a bonus although he finished the season with Pittsburgh. "I don't miss not playing. That's one of the things I like here better," he said. LaRoche is the starting third baseman as part of the youth movement for the last-place Pirates and gets to live and play with his older brother Adam. With the Dodgers, LaRoche received limited action, hitting .203 after needing thumb surgery in the spring, losing his job to Blake DeWitt and then being sent back to the minors again once Casey Blake arrived.

--RHP James McDonald has all of 28 days of big-league service time, but he has wasted no time becoming visible in the community. McDonald, who grew up in Long Beach and already is active in the RBI program, took part in the Dodgers' annual children's holiday party at Dodger Stadium. McDonald pitched 5.1 scoreless innings for the Dodgers in the NLCS.

--OF Andre Ethier visited Children's Hospital Los Angeles as part of the club's inaugural holiday caravan. Ethier then was to be host to 40 pre-selected children for a holiday shopping spree at a local Best Buy outlet. Ethier donated $2,000 to buy holiday presents for the kids, and Best Buy matched the contribution.

--LHP Andy Pettitte and manager Joe Torre spoke recently at a social event and Torre reported that he doesn't foresee Pettitte heading West for a reunion with his former manager. "I don't think that's going to happen," Torre said. While Torre and Pettitte have a strong relationship built during those championship years, Torre said that he didn't initiate contact with Pettitte this offseason, and that he thinks Pettitte's strong desire is to return to the Yankees. Pettitte, nevertheless, has refused to agree to a $10 million salary for 2009, after making $16 million each of the last two seasons.

--LHP Greg Miller has walked 152 in 124.2 innings over the last two minor league seasons. As recently as 2004 he was the Dodgers' top left-handed pitching prospect. Miller's career was thrown off track when he underwent shoulder surgery in the spring of 2004 and then was slow to heal. For the last two seasons, he has fought an desperate battle with the yips, or what ever his control problem is called, and some say that club officials might be running out of patience.

--Diamond Leung of the The Riverside Press-Enterprise was taken by his first tour of Camelback Ranch, the Dodgeres' new spring training facility in Arizona, and said he has an entirely new appreciation for the place the Dodgers are going to call home for Spring Training. He listed a "replica" Dodger Stadium practice field that has the exact same dimensions of the regular season stadium, an amazing central meeting place beyond center field where fans can hang out and take in all that's going on around them, an enormous minor league clubhouse that has got to be four times the size of their current one in Vero Beach and most importantly, many places where fans and players will come across one another like they did in Vero Beach.

--Former Dodgers third baseman/catcher Henry Blanco's 39-year-old Carlos Simon Blanco was murdered by kidnappers after they abducted in Guarenas, a Caracas, Venezuela, suburb. Authorities think the kidnappers were seeking ransom for Blanco's release, according to a statement released by Venezuela's Attorney General's Office. Blanco was a backup catcher for the Cubs this season and is currently a free agent.

--LHP CC Sabathia is hoping for something big from the Dodgers and it's not happened yet, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. Amid rumors the L.A. Angels' reported interest in Sabathia is a bluff designed to soften up the Mark Teixeira negotiations with Scott Boras, a person close to Sabathia said there haven't been conversations with the Dodgers in recent weeks.

--OF Adam Dunn has the Braves, Mariners and Nationals interested in signing him, major-league sources say, and his list of suitors could grow quickly. The slugger, 29, also represents a fallback position for the Dodgers if they lose Ramirez and the Angels if they lose Teixeira.

--C René Rivera, Dodgers minor league free agent catcher who hit .2315-18 with Jacksonville and .271-4-12 with Las Vegas this season, was signed by the Mets to a minor league contract, with an invitation to spring training.

--OF Andruw Jones may start suiting up in the Dominican Republic winter league by as this weekend -- at least the Dodgers hope he will.

--RHP John Wetteland, former Dodgers relief pitchers, was signed by the Mariners as bullpen coach.