Surplus of free agents complicates offseason

The Dodgers had a losing record in early September but finished six games above .500 to overtake the Diamondbacks and win the NL West -- thanks largely to Manny Ramirez, one of the best all-time trade-deadline acquisitions.

Not only did the Red Sox pay the rest of Ramirez's salary, but he had 53 RBIs in 53 games and quickly became the face of the Dodgers, dreadlocks and all. In the postseason, Manny hit .520 with four homers as the Dodgers swept the Cubs and fell to the Phillies in the NLCS.

Primary needs

The rotation could change dramatically because Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux are free agents and Brad Penny (who has a 2009 club option for $9.25 million) could be heading that way. The Dodgers will seek at least one front-line starter to join Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda and 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw.

A closer must be chosen. If it's decided Jonathan Broxton can be the full-time guy, the Dodgers could non-tender Takashi Saito, 38, who missed much of the stretch drive with an elbow problem.


Free agents

LF Ramirez, 3B Casey Blake, SS Rafael Furcal, 2B Jeff Kent, INF Nomar Garciaparra, RHP Derek Lowe, RHP Greg Maddux, RHP Chan Ho Park, LHP Joe Beimel, 1B Mark Sweeney, RHP Jason Johnson, INF Pablo Ozuna.

The biggest decision is whether to meet Ramirez's lofty demands. If the Dodgers re-sign Ramirez, 36, who has hinted he wants a six-year deal, they'd likely take a pass on other free agents and open next season with young players filling their multiple holes. If they don't re-sign him, they could be aggressive on the open market and perhaps go after CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers have the most free agents in the majors, though some may retire, including Maddux, Kent, Garciaparra and Sweeney. Furcal should be affordable after a back injury cost him most of the season, but Blake and Lowe aren't expected to return. It's highly possible the Dodgers will buy out Penny for $2 million, making him a free agent.

Trade bait

The Dodgers would love to move outfielders Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre, two signings they regret. Through his agent, Pierre made a play-me-or-trade-me request, but the Dodgers would be forced to eat much of his contract. Jones (.158, three homers, 14 RBIs, 75 games) has one year and $21.1 million left on his contract, and Pierre has three years and $28.5 million.

Farm aid

James McDonald, who made six relief appearances this year, including two in the postseason (he was both effective and poised), could find his way into next year's rotation, joining Kershaw. Josh Lindblom, the Dodgers' second-round pick in June (2.12 ERA in nine minor league starts), could also reach the majors in 2009.

The Dodgers' top shortstop prospect is Ivan DeJesus Jr. -- son of former Dodger Ivan Sr. -- who hit .324 for Double-A Jacksonville.



GM Ned Colletti's status was shaky after he signed Jones, Pierre and Jason Schmidt, who hasn't pitched in a year and a half, but he saved his job with the in-season acquisitions of Ramirez, Blake, Maddux and Angel Berroa.

Colletti has been hesitant to trade youth, including front-liners Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, but he must figure something out because the roster will be thinned with the expected exodus of free agents.

Another young player, Blake DeWitt, is expected to take over either at third for Blake or at second for Kent.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.