Manny Onboard, L.A. Turns to Other Problems

With Manny Ramirez safely in the fold, the next step for the Dodgers is to try to upgrade their shaky pitching staff. Derek Lowe and Brad Penny left via free agency over the winter, and the rotation is now without an ace. Takashi Saito was non-tendered and wound up in Boston with Penny, leaving young Jonathan Broxton to close.

"We need a starter or a reliever, either way," general manager Ned Colletti said. "We have candidates in-house. But if we find someone else with experience at the big-league level, we'll give it some thought."

For now, the ace of the rotation is Chad Billingsley, who led the club with 16 wins last season and is a legitimate No. 1 starter in the making. But while he made tremendous strides in his third big-league season last year, he still isn't quite there yet, as evidenced by his performance in last year's NL Championship Series.

Behind him are Hiroki Kuroda, who might get the opening-day start, and lefties Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf. The spring training battle is for the fifth spot, which the club will need to fill because the Dodgers begin the season with eight consecutive games before their first off day.

The presumed candidates are right-handers Jason Schmidt and Claudio Vargas and left-handers Eric Milton and Shawn Estes. But if veteran right-hander Jeff Weaver continues to pitch as well as he has in spring training -- he was signed to a minor league contract to compete for a relief spot -- he might be in the mix, as well, especially given that he has spent most of his career as a starter.

Barring a trade for a reliever, the Dodgers also have a free-for-all in the bullpen, where only Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Guillermo Mota and Cory Wade are guaranteed spots.

CIRCUS, CIRCUS: Manny Ramirez is tentatively scheduled to play his first exhibition game of the spring on Thursday, Manager Joe Torre said. The Dodgers will face the second-place team in the Asian bracket of World Baseball Classic that day at Camelback Ranch. The Dodgers' public relations department could be confronted with a logistical nightmare accommodating the national and international media if the visiting team is Japan, which has 200+ reporters covering the team.

--RHP Justin Orenduff was designated for assignment on March 6 to clear a 40-man roster spot for LF Manny Ramirez. Orenduff, a supplemental first-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft, didn't pitch well at Class AAA Las Vegas last year, going 3-7 with a 6.55 ERA in 21 starts and 10 relief appearances. He made one Cactus League appearance this spring, facing six batters, recording two outs, walking two and giving up two doubles on Feb. 27 against Seattle.

--LHP Randy Wolf has pitched five shutout innings in his first two Cactus League starts. Wolf shut out the Cubs over three innings on March 6, allowing just one hit, although he walk two batters. Wolf also batted second because Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who didn't use a designated hitter for the first time this spring, wanted him to bat at least twice in a game when Wolf wasn't scheduled to pitch more than three innings.

--RHP Jeff Weaver, who was signed to a minor league contract last month to compete for a bullpen spot, might be pitching his way into the mix for the fifth starter's job. Weaver hasn't allowed a run through two appearances and three innings this spring, and he has given up just four hits. He finished his two-inning stint against the Cubs on March 6 by freezing Derrek Lee on a called third strike with two runners on.

--OF Xavier Paul appeared in all of the Dodgers' first nine Cactus League games and was hitting .391 with two doubles, a home run and seven RBIs. He also had a .440 on-base percentage. The Manny Ramirez signing probably means Paul has no shot of making the club, but he clearly has made a positive impression on the organizational brass.

--INF Ivan DeJesus Jr., the Dodgers' top shortstop prospect and the organization's reigning Minor League Player of the Year, suffered a broken left leg in a play at the plate during a spring-training "B" game with Milwaukee on March 2. DeJesus broke the lower part of the tibia when he appeared to get caught in a moment of indecision between sliding and trying to score standing up. The following day at a Phoenix hospital, he underwent surgery in which a rod was inserted into his lower leg. DeJesus is expected to be sidelined for about four months.

The Dodgers made several player moves, most notably designating right-hander Justin Orenduff for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot for Ramirez.

They also sent four others to minor-league camp, optioning pitcher Greg Miller and reassigning non-roster pitchers Jacobo Meque, Yhency Brazoban and Ronald Belisario. Those are the spring's first cuts.
Additionally, the Dodgers agreed to terms on one-year contracts with all of the remaining unsigned players on their 40-man roster. The most prominent names on that list where pitcher Chad Billingsley, who signed for $475,000; outfielder Matt Kemp ($467,000); first baseman James Loney ($465,000) and reliever Hong-Chih Kuo ($437,000).

:Following their annual spring tryout camp, the Dodgers signed former major-league pitcher Tim Corcoran, 30, who spent three seasons with Tampa Bay. The right-hander has a Major League record of 5-9, 4.97 over 40 games, 17 of them starts. He will report to minor-league camp and begin the season at Double-A Chattanooga.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "What happened in Boston, at this point, I don't think it hurt me. It was a bad economy. I got a good contract. I have made my money already. I'm happy to be playing where I want to be playing. Actually, I won. I'm in a great place. My teammates love me, and the fans love me. It's better to have a two-year deal in a place where you are happy than an eight-year deal in a place where you are suffering." -- LF Manny Ramirez, after re-signing with the Dodgers.

ROSTER REPORT: The Dodgers' offseason was almost as much about "goodbye" as it was "hello." For starters, they overhauled the personality of the clubhouse, as 2B Jeff Kent retired, enigmatic RHP Brad Penny signed with Boston and the oft-discontented RHP Derek Lowe landed in Atlanta. Although many of their acquisitions were less than marquee -- backup C Brad Ausmus, utility INF Mark Loretta -- particular emphasis was placed on players with reputations for being consummate professionals and good teammates. 2B Orlando Hudson arrived in the early days of spring training, and LF Manny Ramirez re-upped a week into the Cactus League season.

ARRIVALS: RHP Guillermo Mota (free agent from Brewers), RHP Claudio Vargas (free agent from Mets), C Brad Ausmus (free agent from Astros), INF Mark Loretta (free agent from Astros), LHP Shawn Estes (minor league free agent from Padres), INF Juan Castro (minor league free agent from Orioles), LHP Randy Wolf (free agent from Astros), 2B Orlando Hudson (free agent from Diamondbacks), INF Doug Mientkiewicz (minor league free agent from Pirates).

DEPARTURES: RHP Brad Penny (free agent, signed with Red Sox), RHP Derek Lowe (free agent, signed with Braves), 2B Jeff Kent (retired), RHP Greg Maddux (retired), INF Angel Berroa (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Yankees), RHP Jason Johnson (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Yankees), INF Nomar Garciaparra (free agent, unsigned), CF Andruw Jones (released, signed minor league deal with Rangers), INF Pablo Ozuna (free agent, signed minor league deal with Phillies), RHP Chan Ho Park (free agent, signed with Phillies), RHP Scott Proctor (non-tendered, signed with Marlins), RHP Takashi Saito (non-tendered, signed with Red Sox), LHP Joe Beimel (free agent, unsigned), INF Mark Sweeney (free agent, unsigned).

SPRING FOCUS: Partly because of the economy, this will be a spring like no other, and with so many positions already set, the Dodgers' focus could be as much off the field as on the field.

1. RHP Chad Billingsley
2. LHP Clayton Kershaw
3. RHP Hiroki Kuroda
4. LHP Randy Wolf
5. RHP Claudio Vargas or RHP Jeff Weaver

Vargas is a slight favorite for the fifth spot, but he is far from a lock. If RHP Jason Schmidt is healthy, he'll compete, as will LHPs Eric Stults and Shawn Estes. Billingsley took a major leap forward last year. He suffered a spiral fracture of his left fibula in an offseason accident at home, but he is expected to be recovered by the start of camp.

Kershaw is one of the league's top young pitchers, and he'll benefit from the addition of the veteran Wolf, who has more major league service time than Billingsley, Kershaw and Kuroda put together.

RHP Jonathan Broxton (closer)
LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
RHP Guillermo Mota
RHP James McDonald
LHP Eric Stults
RHP Ramon Troncoso
RHP Cory Wade

The club was still hoping to add a veteran reliever before the start of spring training, something that figured to happen quickly once the Wolf signing was complete. If it's another lefty that could push Stults to the minors.

Broxton will take over the closer's role full time this season, and while he has overpowering stuff, he is a bit of an adventure at times. If he falters, Kuo would be a candidate to take over the job at some point, but he also has issues, what with his history of elbow problems and two Tommy John surgeries while in the minors.

1. SS Rafael Furcal
2. 2B Orlando Hudson
3. LF Manny Ramirez
4. C Russell Martin
5. CF Matt Kemp
6. 1B James Loney
7. RF Andre Ethier
8. 3B Casey Blake

The Dodgers weren't very good inconsistent before Ramirez arrived on July 31, but he injected life into the lineup. The club showed a dramatically different approach at the plate after the midseason arrival of new hitting coach Don Mattingly, who should be around for a full season this time.

C Brad Ausmus
INF Mark Loretta
INF Juan Castro
OF Juan Pierre
OF Delwyn Young

Pierre was forced to the bench with Ramirez's return. Castro will have to beat out Tony Abreu and Chin-lung Hu, but neither of them has done much to distinguish himself the past couple of years, so the job is Castro's to lose.

Ausmus won't play much behind Martin, but he was brought in as much for mentoring purposes as anything else. He and Loretta are on the down sides of their careers, but they are key pieces in the front office's effort to create a more professional clubhouse environment.

TOP ROOKIES: OF Andrew Lambo is the organization's top prospect, and although he is probably at least a year away and isn't expected to be invited to big-league camp, GM Ned Colletti and manager Joe Torre undoubtedly will want to look at him in a couple of Cactus League games. He hit .389 in a brief, end-of-the-season promotion to Class AA, hitting three homers and driving in 12 runs in eight games.

OF Xavier Paul had a strong season at Class AAA Las Vegas (.316, 28 doubles, nine homers, 68 RBIs and 17 steals) and a decent one in the Mexican winter league. But with Delwyn Young out of options and Jason Repko making big-league money, Paul's best bet might be to get traded to another organization.

RHP Chad Billingsley (left fibula fracture in November 2008) has been right on schedule in his recovery after slipping on ice at his home in Pennsylvania. He is expected to be healthy by the start of camp and ready to take his place at the front of the rotation.
RHP Jason Schmidt (right shoulder surgeries in June 2007 and September 2008) hasn't pitched in the majors in almost two years, and club officials are adamant about the fact they aren't counting on him. But he was expected to begin throwing off a mound shortly before the start of camp, and he should be fully capable of at least competing for a bullpen spot.
3B Casey Blake (groin) was hurt Feb. 25, and he sat out for several days. The injury wasn't believed to be serious.
INF Tony Abreu (groin) was hurt Feb. 27. He was expected to miss at least three or four days.