He Came, He Saw -- But He Only Signed Two

The Dodgers, with a stream of free agent players already having left the team, came home from the winter meetings having re-signed third baseman Casey Blake and having added infielder Mark Loretta, and still hadn't addressed many of their glaring needs. At the top of that list was re-signing shortstop Rafael Furcal, something that didn't appear close to happening.

In fact, that appears to be the only thing on the list as they play the waiting game to see just how the free agent market shakes out.

"Our focus right now is on the infield," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "That is taking up most of our conversations."

At a time when the economy is down and ownership is believed to have a stated preference, if not an outright mandate, that the club's player payroll be reduced, Colletti admitted that the uncertainty of what it will cost to fill the shortstop hole is part of what is holding up his effort to address the team's other needs.

For now, there is still a considerable chasm between Furcal and the Dodgers, in terms of both the length of the offer and the amount of guaranteed salary but Furcal seems to be hoping the Dodgers will lengthen their offer. It is believed that three other teams -- Kansas City, Toronto and Oakland -- are pursuing Furcal and that at least one of them, the A's, has offered a four-year contract with a guarantee of somewhere between $32 million and $40 million.

The Dodgers' best offer to Furcal to date is believed to be for two years with a club option for 2011 that would automatically kick in if Furcal reached certain incentives that officials say would be easily attained if he stayed healthy.

"I think we have made some progress," Colletti said. "But because of the complications of the whole situation, it's going to take more time. This is not a typical deal. It is going to take some creativity on our part, and on their part it is going to take a willingness to accept some creativity. If they aren't willing to accept creativity, then we will move on.

"Our desire is Furcal. We are focusing on Raffy, but at some point in time, we have to open it up to other ideas. That time is coming."

Notes and Quotes
--3B Casey Blake re-signed for three years and $17.5 million after Minnesota failed to guarantee the third year on a two-year-plus-option offer. Blake will return to third base for the Dodgers, forcing Blake DeWitt to move to second. Blake will earn $5 million in 2009, $6 million in 2010 and $5.25 million in 2011, with a $6 million club option for 2012 that is almost certain to be bought out at $1.25 million because Blake will be approaching 39 at that time.

--Thirty-seven year old INF Mark Loretta said his top preference going into the off-season was to sign with the Dodgers. Loretta received a one-year, $1.25 million deal. Loretta is expected to be something of a "super-sub" along the lines of the role Nomar Garciaparra filled last season. He also could be the right-handed half of a second base platoon with Blake DeWitt. He is a bridge to the next Dodgers second baseman.

--Tony Abreu is working out in preparation for the 2009 season after missing all of 2008 with an injury that required an operation. His return, in pre-injury condition, would go a long way toward solving the Dodgers infield problems.

--LF Manny Ramirez might yet return to the Dodgers' (don't look for him before the first of the year) since there doesn't seem to be many clubs interested, but not before he made a fool of himself for threatening to "retire" because he hasn't realized the 5-6 year contract his agent has been talking about. With unemployment at over a half million and many more than that losing their jobs and homes, he is apparently embarrassed to accept a two-year contract for $45 million the Dodgers had on the table earlier. Perhaps we are seeing the Manny that still has the Boston area fuming.

--RHP Takashi Saito, the Dodgers' closer for most of the past three seasons who has been doing a remarkable job for much, much less money than other Major League closers, is in danger of being non-tendered, along with Scott Proctor, Jason Repko, Angel Berroa and Yhency Brazoban. Saito was hampered by an elbow injury at the end of this year and also battled inconsistency. Given that Saito made $2 million this year and would be in line to get a significant raise, perhaps $3.5 million if he filed for arbitration, club officials sounded unwilling to allow him to enter that process. But in reality, a good deal of the problem is the fact that he is going to be 39 in 2009.

--INF Angel Berroa was almost certain to be non-tendered. Berroa received $4.75 million this year, all of which was paid by Kansas City as part of a four-year, $11 million deal he signed with the Royals after 2004. Berroa isn't expected to fill much more than a utility role next year, and the Dodgers aren't interested in paying him anything close to his 2008 salary to do that.

By the Numbers: 11 -- Major league appearances over the past three seasons, including two this year, by Dodgers RHP Yhency Brazoban, who has battled injuries, inconsistency and weight problems during that time. Brazoban avoided arbitration a year ago by agreeing to a one-year, $540,000 contract, but given that his effort to lose weight has mostly been a failure, and the club's one-time closer (21 saves in 2005) is all but certain to be non-tendered.

Quote to Note: "I actually decided two years ago to retire, but I ended up playing one more year anyway. My wife and I talked, and we really liked the idea of playing on the West Coast. It was close to Vegas and close to our kids' schools. But I told some teammates and people in baseball that this would be my last year. I don't know if they believed me, but I was being honest with them this time." -- Dodgers RHP Greg Maddux, announcing his retirement.

Roster Report
The Dodgers figure to be a dramatically different team next season. Although the core of young players remains under organizational control, there have been a slew of free agent defections among the veterans. One of the biggest decisions of the winter will be whether to cough 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.

The Dodgers must add a starting pitcher or two. RHP Derek Lowe is a free agent, RHP Greg Maddux retired 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 declined Penny's option, making the two-time All-Star a free agent.

LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Chan Ho Park, SS Rafael Furcal, INF Nomar Garciaparra, 2B Jeff Kent, INF Mark Sweeney, LF Manny Ramirez, C Gary Bennett, RHP Jason Johnson, INF Pablo Ozuna, RHP Brad Penny are all free agents. Kent probably will retire and Garciaparra isn't likely to be invited back because of his history of injuries.

OF Juan Pierre appeared to be untradeable with three years and $28.5 million left on his contract but the Mets seem to have some interest if the Dodgers eat a major portion of his salary. But he can't be dealt until they know if Ramirez will sign or Andruw Jones can play.

*M*A*S*H* 4077 Report
RHP Chad Billingsley (left leg surgery in November 2008) hopes to be recovered for the start of spring training.
RHP Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgeries in June 2007 and September 2008) hasn't pitched in a year and a half, but he finally might be ready to return by the start of spring training but no one really expects him to pitch by the start of the season.
OF Andruw Jones (sore knees) missed most of the final two months, but a bigger concern than his health is whether he will regain his lost stroke next season. He has started to play in the Dominican Winter League.
RHP Scott Proctor (sore right elbow) was scheduled to undergo elbow surgery in mid-October. He was to have a partial tear repaired in his flexor tendon and a bone spur shaved down. He is expected to be ready for spring training if he stays with the team [see story above about arbitration].