Dodgers have little wiggle room

In the always-darkest-before-the-dawn department, the front office of the Los Angeles Dodgers will head to next week's winter meetings in Dallas -- presumably the Dodgers' last winter meetings before Frank McCourt hands over the keys to a new owner -- knowing their future most certainly isn't now. The Dodgers will take some money with them, but it won't be much, and they will go in with a wish list, but it won't be long.

Will it be any shorter by the time general manager Ned Colletti and his inner circle board their return flights at the end of the week? Will any of those items have been crossed off? Tough to say at this point. What we do know is the club finalized its signing of free-agent infielder Adam Kennedy on Thursday, giving the Dodgers one of the two utility infielders Colletti was seeking to back up the primary alignment of James Loney at first, Mark Ellis at second, Juan Uribe at third and Dee Gordon at short.

The Dodgers' offseason needs this winter are perhaps simpler and more clearly defined than in recent memory, and that isn't because they are a potential juggernaut that merely needs a little fine-tuning. Rather, it's because the financial constraints borne of the team's bankruptcy and impending sale don't leave Colletti much wiggle room.

What Colletti still feels he absolutely has to do, either during the meetings or shortly thereafter, is add a starting pitcher -- the choices at this point appear to have been narrowed to free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano (and that list could be cut in half soon, as there were reports out of Chicago that the Cubs might be getting close to snatching up Capuano). Colletti also wants another utility player; veterans Jerry Hairston and Jack Wilson are high on the list, as is incumbent Aaron Miles.

The need for a starting pitcher would be negated, of course, if the team could somehow retain Hiroki Kuroda -- he now has received offers from both the Dodgers and the Hiroshima Carp -- but that doesn't appear likely.

"I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to fit him in with where we are at financially," Colletti said. "I would love to have him back. He pitched well here, and he is a great competitor and a great teammate. But unless somebody wants to get creative ..."

Colletti said he also would like to add a middle reliever, but that isn't a major priority.

"I think if we end up with another infielder with some versatility and a starting pitcher, we would at least take a breath and see where we're at," he said.

The Dodgers also could take a Rule 5 pick this coming Thursday -- for a team with financial issues, the $50,000 asking price can be tempting -- but the fact that the Dodgers have just one open 40-man roster spot after signing Kennedy and are hoping to add at least two players would seem to indicate they won't take on a Rule 5 player.

And then, just four days after the meetings' conclusion comes the Dec. 12 deadline for tendering contract offers to those players who are eligible for arbitration. It is at that point the club probably will say goodbye to Hong-Chih Kuo.

The other five arbitration-eligible players are Clayton Kershaw, who as the newly crowned National League Cy Young Award winner will go from $500,000 in 2011 to several million in 2012; pitcher Dana Eveland; Loney; right fielder Andre Ethier; and fifth outfielder Tony Gwynn. Ethier and Loney, who probably saved himself from what once seemed like a certain non-tender by finishing strong, made a combined $14 million-plus last year, and both will receive significant raises. So for a cash-strapped club, the arbitration process is another major expense that could lead to some tough choices by the front office.

"That will really be based on performance, as it always is," Colletti said. "It will be coupled with finances, but really, that is no different with any team."

His incredible shrinking budget aside, Colletti insists it isn't all gloom, doom and pessimism. He pointed to the fact that the Dodgers finished 2011 by winning 44 of their final 71 games and the emergence of some promising rookies, such as Gordon and Jerry Sands, who figure prominently in the plans for 2012.

"I think we have a chance to have a good club," Colletti said. "We have to stay healthy, and we have to make a couple more moves this winter to give us a chance. And, as the season goes on, we have to be in that state of flux where we're open-minded to doing something. I can't be discouraged after the last seven weeks [of the 2011 season].

"That doesn't lead me to be discouraged. That leads me to be encouraged."

Colletti will need that optimism as he heads to the winter meetings. Because he doesn't figure to uncover any more encouragement once he gets there.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.