The prime directive: Get younger

LOS ANGELES – Whether the Los Angeles Dodgers retain general manager Ned Colletti or fire him, the team is on a mission this offseason to find a way to get a younger roster while remaining competitive and to avoid signing any more bad long-term contracts. When you think about it, that’s kind of the same thing.

The Dodgers figure to be in the market for a starting pitcher this winter, but they are unlikely to pursue anybody who would receive a qualifying offer from their current team and thus cost the Dodgers a draft pick, a source indicated. In other words, they’ll be searching for No. 4 and 5 starters (think Dan Haren) rather than somebody who would slide in front of Hyun-Jin Ryu. The payroll figures to go down, perhaps below the $200 million mark.

And don’t be surprised if the Dodgers simply let Hanley Ramirez go without submitting a qualifying offer, which this winter is $15.3 million. Of the Dodgers’ eight regular position players to end the season, six were 30 or older. Catcher A.J. Ellis will turn 34 in April. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez will turn 33 in May. The Dodgers might have to live with the growing pains of young shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena and, if they can unload any outfield contracts, the growing pains of Joc Pederson in the outfield.

The difficult task of slowing the aging process – on the roster, not in the human body – was a major topic of discussion in the team’s first day of organizational meetings, said manager Don Mattingly.

“You see certain teams and, all of a sudden, you’re old,” Mattingly said. “In baseball, it’s tough to say that because you see 32, 33 in baseball and all of a sudden, that’s old again. It always has been besides one little 10-year or 12-year period when it didn’t seem to matter. Just as an organization, I think it’s something you pay attention to. It’s what ownership and [president] Stan Kasten talked about from the beginning.

“You want to have guys coming all the time. You don’t want to have to get into the free agency.”

In other words, the Dodgers are terrified of becoming the New York Yankees or Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s fair to say the Dodgers don’t have “guys coming all the time.” If they did, they wouldn’t have had an incredibly expensive bullpen that essentially cost them the NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. There are, though, signs of progress in the farm system, the team believes, with Pederson knocking on the door, Corey Seager perhaps a factor next season and – in a longshot scenario – Julio Urias making his mark as a teenager next year. Outfield prospect Scott Schebler also is beginning to make his move in the organization and his name came up Thursday.

The fragile state of the Dodgers’ rebuilding farm system was the reason the team held onto its prospects rather than trade for a pitcher at the deadline. Ironically, that’s probably part of the reason Colletti is in such a vulnerable position.