What's next for the Dodgers?

As Matthew Leach writes, the just-eliminated Dodgers are pretty well set for next season, with one real exception:

    The rotation is the area of greatest uncertainty. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 1 of the NLCS, is back, as is righty Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda, hampered by injury late in 2009, is under contract. That's three-fifths of a rotation, but it still leaves two openings. And there may or may not be an ace, depending on how quickly and how much Kershaw develops.

    The absence of a clear-cut ace stood out when the Dodgers faced the Phillies and Cliff Lee.

    "I think they have a clear No. 1 guy," said outfielder Andre Ethier. "That's the biggest thing. No disrespect for our pitchers, the way they've performed, but when you've got a Cliff Lee, a veteran guy who knows how to pitch and has pitched well and is carrying some hardware with him, you've got a great guy to lead off your staff."

    No. 1 starters aren't easily acquired, though. They're expensive and rare in free agency, and command a king's ransom in trade. A more reasonable goal is to fill out the back of the rotation. Los Angeles holds expensive options on both Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, and it's tough to see either one being picked up. Randy Wolf, who started Game 1 of the Division Series, is a free agent, and while the Dodgers would be happy to have him back, they might balk at a multiyear commitment.

Well, that depends on how multi the multi is, right? Over the last three seasons, Wolf is 32-25 with a solid ERA and two-and-a-half times as many strikeouts as walks. Sure, he's been hurt sometimes -- though not lately -- and he barely grazes 90 with his fastball. But go back and look at the sort of contracts that veteran pitchers -- pitchers not as good as Wolf -- have signed over the years. I don't think the Dodgers should shoot for the moon, but a two- or three-year deal is perfectly appropriate.

Granted, it's true that without Wolf or Padilla (another free-agent-to-be) the Dodgers have only three-fifths of a rotation. About the lack of an ace -- well, Kershaw finished the season with the fifth-lowest ERA in the National League. That's pretty good. Sure, you'd like to see him issue fewer walks and pitch seven innings per start rather than six. But he doesn't turn 22 until next spring and presumably has some unrealized potential. Oh, and if that doesn't work out, Billingsley is only 24 and has a 3.55 career ERA.

No guarantees, obviously. But I wouldn't bet against one of those guys getting into a Cy Young discussion at some point in the next two or three seasons. Everybody wants their own CC Sabathia or Lee or Tim Lincecum, but there are only so many of those guys to go around. And with all of them apparently locked up for a while, the Dodgers will probably just have to come up with one of their own.