In what could be their last significant free-agent signing of the winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers finalized their three-year, $12 million agreement with reliever Matt Guerrier on Thursday after the veteran right-hander passed a physical exam.
Although the club remains in the market for an everyday left fielder, general manager Ned Colletti has said that need isn't a desperate one and that he is comfortable going to spring training and possibly even into the season with the outfielders the Dodgers presently have on their roster.
The Guerrier deal is heavily loaded toward the back end, with a salary of just $1.5 million in 2011 -- he'll be paid $4.75 million in each of 2012 and 2013, with $1 million in deferred money payable in 2014. Although both Colletti and owner Frank McCourt have been tightlipped about the team's payroll budget, except to concede that it will increase significantly from 2010, the Guerrier signing leaves the Dodgers with about $77.25 million already committed to 16 players for 2011.
Add in an estimated $13 million to $14 million for the team's three pending arbitration cases with pitchers Chad Billingsley and Hong-Chih Kuo and first baseman James Loney; about $2.7 million to round out the Opening Day roster with six "zero-to-three" players who all figure to be making between $400,000 and $500,000; and the roughly $17 million owed by the club in 2011 to long-departed players Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones; and you get a total of about $115 million already committed.
That represents a monumental increase over last year's Opening Day payroll of roughly $95 million, which rose slightly with in-season acquisitions. So the question now is, is there still room for the Dodgers to add a free-agent left fielder? And if they do, will Colletti still have in-season payroll flexibility as the July trading deadline approaches?
The team's search for a left fielder, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity, has been narrowed to two players: Bill Hall and Scott Podsednik, with a strong preference for Hall because he is a right-handed hitter. Terry Bross, Hall's Phoenix-based agent, said this week that his client, a nine-year veteran who can play six different positions, also has a strong preference for the Dodgers.
So far, though, the sides haven't been able to come to an agreement.
"We're not miles apart," Bross said. "We are having fruitful discussions, and hopefully, we can bridge the gap."
If the Dodgers don't add a left fielder, rookie manager Don Mattingly will use a combination of Tony Gwynn Jr., a free agent whom the team signed on Saturday to a one-year, $675,000 contract to be ostensibly the fourth outfielder; Xavier Paul, the longtime Dodgers prospect who has never gained a foothold in the majors but is now out of minor league options; and Jay Gibbons. All three are left-handed batters, meaning that on most days, the Dodgers would have three pure left-handed hitters in their lineup in Loney, right fielder Andre Ethier and whoever plays left.
Hall has experience at second, third, short and all three outfield spots, but he hasn't reached 500 plate appearances in a season since 2007. If the Dodgers were to sign him, he wouldn't necessarily be their "everyday left fielder," but he would draw the vast majority of the starts there. If the Dodgers were to sign Podsednik -- which seems unlikely at this point after the veteran outfielder declined his $2 million mutual option to remain with the club after the season -- he likely would fill a similar role.
The Dodgers didn't immediately announce a corresponding 40-man roster move to clear a spot for Guerrier. Colletti said via text message that the move was "pending."
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.