With the Los Angeles Dodgers -- and the 29 other major league clubs -- allowed to begin negotiating with free agents Thursday, general manager Ned Colletti has gone on record as saying his top priority this winter is to add a power bat to the team's lineup. That is one need, but with the Dodgers having failed to make the playoffs in 2011, it is far from the only thing on the team's wish list.
Here, then, is a quick look at the most pressing issues for the Dodgers this winter:
1. A big bat. There remains some question as to whether the Dodgers will actually be able to get one. If the team is put up for sale, all bets -- and the budget Colletti has already been given -- are off. And it isn't as if the free-agent market, which is unusually weak, is just brimming with those guys. The marquee names are Albert Pujols, who it is difficult to imagine leaving St. Louis, and Prince Fielder, who figures to want an eight- or nine-year deal that could put him out of the Dodgers' price range. Keep in mind, though, that the Dodgers do expect a healthy Juan Uribe, a more experienced Jerry Sands, a rejuvenated James Loney and (fingers crossed) a fresh start for Andre Ethier. Perhaps one of those guys, or all of them combined, could provide the boost the Dodgers' lineup so desperately needs.
2. A second baseman. The Dodgers would like to re-sign both Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles, but the fact is that both of those guys are utility players and neither is really a viable, full-season option as an every-day second baseman. With Casey Blake on his way out the door, Uribe is penciled in at third. And there isn't a regular second baseman in the system who is ready to take over. This likely will have to be filled by someone on the open market.
3. A front-line catcher. As Casey Stengel famously said when his New York Mets chose Hobie Landrith with their first pick in the 1961 expansion draft, you have to have a catcher because if you don't, all the balls go to the backstop. Right now, the Dodgers don't have one. Well, they do have A.J. Ellis, but he has always been considered a backup and probably always will be. Tim Federowicz, who came from Boston in that three-team deal at the deadline, is considered the future back there and probably will take over by midseason, but club officials remain skeptical about his viability for Opening Day. If the Dodgers decide to re-sign Rod Barajas -- and really, is there a compelling reason not to? -- they likely would get a hometown discount from a guy who really likes playing in Los Angeles.
4. A starting pitcher? Perhaps. It all depends on Hiroki Kuroda. Will he go or will he stay? If it comes down to money, he's staying; the Dodgers have far more of it to offer him than do the Hiroshima Carp, the team for which Kuroda pitched 11 seasons before coming stateside four winters ago. But those familiar with Kuroda say it won't come down to money and that he has every intention of one day finishing his career where it started -- even if he does plan, according to numerous sources, to settle permanently in Los Angeles with his family. If Kuroda goes now, the Dodgers will need to replace him, and although they have a host of promising young starters in their system, they aren't ready to count on any of them yet.
5. A left fielder. This could be filled from within. It could be Juan Rivera if the Dodgers choose to re-sign him and are able to. It could be Tony Gwynn Jr., assuming the Dodgers are willing to go through arbitration with him -- he'll get a huge raise from the $675,000 the club paid him in 2010, as that was a free-agent contract and now Gwynn is in line for a salary typical of a four-plus arbitration-eligible outfielder. It also could be Sands if he is deemed ready, although that is a decision the Dodgers will have to make without the luxury of watching him for six weeks in spring training.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.