Pitcher, left fielder top Dodgers' wish list

Major League Baseball's free-agent signing period began earlier this week, and if you want to give yourself a headache, try perusing the list now and figuring out where everybody fits.

There are 168 names on the list and 30 teams that have needs to fill, and while most of those players will have landed somewhere by the end of next month's winter meetings, a handful of them could still be dangling out there by the start of spring training.

There are a few names you can cross off right now. Brad Ausmus, for example, is retiring. Bengie Molina and newly crowned World Series Most Valuable Player Edgar Renteria have hinted at doing the same.
There also are a couple of names that pop off the page.

Texas Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee, who would have been the marquee player available at this year's trading deadline if he hadn't been traded three weeks before, will be the most sought-after free-agent pitcher on this year's market. And Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Carl Crawford will be the hot item among position players.

So, will the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose most glaring needs this season are a starting pitcher and an everyday left fielder, be in position to make a serious run for either of them? It doesn't seem likely, considering the New York Yankees and their seemingly bottomless pockets are expected to go after both Lee and Crawford. The Dodgers probably will kick the tires on both players just to be able to say they did, but it seems highly unlikely at this point that either will end up at Chavez Ravine.

What, then, can Dodgers fans expect their team to pick up from this year's free-agent market? General manager Ned Colletti will have more money to spend than he had last year, when the Dodgers began the season with a player payroll of $83 million and finished it at $95 million.

Colletti has said that owner Frank McCourt has given him a bigger budget to work with, but Colletti hasn't been willing to say how much the payroll will increase. If it only goes up to, say, $100 million, the Dodgers might have to think small when it comes to free agents. But if it goes up to $110 million or $115 million, or maybe even the $118 million the Dodgers opened with in 2008, well, in that case Colletti can afford at least a mini shopping spree.

For now, even after signing Ted Lilly to a three-year, $33 million deal before the veteran left-hander hit the open market, the Dodgers have only about $51.1 million committed to eight players this season, plus the $17 million they still owe Manny Ramirez, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre.

They also have some expensive arbitration cases coming up with the likes of Chad Billingsley, George Sherrill, James Loney, Ryan Theriot and Russell Martin -- although Theriot, Martin and Sherrill all are possible non-tenders.

So the Dodgers should have at least some financial maneuverability, at least more than they had last winter.

As far as the pitching, the Dodgers could try to bring their rotation back intact. Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw are under club control, and Lilly is signed. The Dodgers could re-sign Vicente Padilla, possibly to a deal similar to the one-year, $5.025 million deal he accepted last winter. And although it was thought Hiroki Kuroda was considering returning to his native Japan after his three-year, $35.3 million contract with the Dodgers expired, a source with knowledge of the situation said Kuroda is interested in remaining in the U.S. for one more season.

Still, a quick glance at the list of free-agent starting pitchers presents a handful of intriguing possibilities. Two of them come from within the National League West.

One is former Colorado Rockies left-hander Jorge de la Rosa. Signing him would mean three lefties in the rotation with Lilly and Kershaw. But after missing 2 1/2 months early this season with a torn tendon sheath on the middle finger of his pitching hand, de la Rosa returned and quietly put up solid numbers. He was a middling 8-7 with a 4.22 ERA, but he gave up just 105 hits in 121 2/3 innings, and he had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of slightly better than 2-1. He also gave up less than one home run every 10 innings during his 11 home starts at the notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field.

De la Rosa made $5.6 million this season.

The other is former San Diego Padres right-hander Chris Young, who missed most of the season with a shoulder strain. When he finally returned in September, Young made three starts and posted a 1.29 ERA in the heat of a pennant race while opposing batters hit just .180 off him. He has fallen on hard times the past couple of years because of those injuries, but he appears to have regained his once-solid form, and he figures to be a bargain -- he made $6.25 million this year, the final season of a four-year, $14.5 million contract.

As far as left field, if the Dodgers aren't going to be serious bidders for Crawford, they may want to think outside the box. They stand a good chance of re-signing Reed Johnson, but he isn't an everyday guy. They also will try to re-sign Scott Podsednik, who could be an everyday guy but certainly isn't the best option out there.

But what about the possibility of signing free-agent first baseman Adam Dunn and putting him back in left field, where he hasn't played since 2009 but where he has played the vast majority of his games in the majors? Dunn isn't a great left fielder, but he certainly isn't a great first baseman, either. He strikes out a lot, including a career-high 199 times this year, but he also walks a lot -- he led the league with 122 freebies in 2008 -- and he goes yard an awful lot, including 38 times each of the past two seasons. That's more home runs than any Dodgers player has hit since 2004, when Adrian Beltre had 48.

Dunn won't be cheap. He is coming off a two-year, $20 million deal with the Washington Nationals that paid him $12 million this year. Moreover, one scout said recently that Dunn prefers a small-market club like the Cincinnati Reds, who originally drafted him, signed him and brought him to the majors, and that Dunn was never happy in Washington. But there is one big difference: the Nationals were never really a threat to make the playoffs during Dunn's two seasons in Washington. Adding Dunn to the middle of the lineup could make the Dodgers a playoff threat again. Dunn, who hasn't been to the playoffs in 10 big league seasons, might find that intriguing.

One factor that might scare the Dodgers away from Dunn: he is a left-handed hitter, and they already are heavily left-handed in the middle with Andre Ethier and James Loney.

Those are merely shots in the dark, and maybe long shots at that. But that's part of the fun about this time of year for baseball fans. Barely a week after the World Series, the so-called hot stove has been lighted. It won't be going out anytime soon.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.