LOS ANGELES -- Assumptions are routinely made in business planning, so let's assume the Delaware bankruptcy court can clarify the Dodgers' finances before this winter's free-agency window closes.
If that's the case, the Dodgers could have $25 million or more to spend this winter on free agents -- money freed up from last year's $110 million payroll through the departure of free agents and trades -- even with significant raises through arbitration allocated to stars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
That's why general manager Ned Colletti ended the season by indicating he just might be in position to satisfy the club's need -- and fans' demands -- for a dramatic offensive acquisition. Until someone with a gavel tells him otherwise, Colletti still is focused on adding that big bat.
Dramatic offensive acquisition translates to Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, even though his arrival would necessitate that incumbent first baseman James Loney is traded, non-tendered or moves to left field. Loney revived his career with a solid second half after hitting .268 prior to the All-Star Game. Fielder would command a nine-figure deal, which should give pause to a club that has spent more than a billion dollars in multiyear contracts over the past 13 seasons without a World Series appearance to show for it.
While a bat is the biggest need, the most pressing issue chronologically for Colletti will be to resolve the status of free-agent Hiroki Kuroda, who might return to the Dodgers or to Japan. Colletti needs to know if he must set aside another $12 million for the return of the innings-eating Kuroda or whether he must replace him with a similar veteran. Kuroda's decision probably is dependent on how the court rules.
Success, or lack thereof, of acquiring someone like Fielder will determine whether the club re-signs Juan Rivera, who delivered as the run-producer the club needed, even though he lacked home-run power. Without signing Fielder or dealing for a hitter, the re-signing of Rivera would become critical for the middle of the order.
The Dodgers are expected to have interest in re-signing several of their free agents in addition to Kuroda -- most notably catcher Rod Barajas, infielder Aaron Miles and reliever Mike MacDougal -- but again, not until there is some certainty provided by the court.
Eligible for arbitration: Andre Ethier, OF; Dana Eveland, LHP; Tony Gwynn, OF; Kemp, OF; Kershaw, LHP; Hong-Chih Kuo, LHP; Loney, INF.
Non-tender possibilities: Eveland, Kuo, Loney.
Areas of need
Pitching: With Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly returning, two rotation slots remain. One is Kuroda's, and if he returns, the fifth is likely to go to impressive rookie Nathan Eovaldi. Without Kuroda, the club will be looking through free agency and trade for a similar veteran that can eat innings. Free-agent Jon Garland might be in the mix, but he's a risk coming off shoulder surgery. With uncertainty about Kuo, another left-handed reliever is needed.
Second base: The club could go young and cheap with Justin Sellers, although he projects as more of a utilityman, and his offense tailed off in September. Carroll was as consistent as any player the past two seasons, but he'll likely command a multiyear deal on the free-agent market, and the Dodgers might not go there. They are more likely to re-sign Miles because of the switch-hitting bat and ability to play third base should Juan Uribe vanish again.
Catcher: There has been talk about going young behind the plate with A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz, although the jury is out on whether Federowicz (acquired in the Trayvon Robinson trade) is ready for that. More likely the club brings back free-agent Barajas, who put up Russell Martin numbers at a lower salary. Barajas worked well with pitchers, has above-average backstop skills, hits for power and he wants to play for the hometown team.
Left fielder: A year later, the Dodgers are still trying to replace Manny Ramirez. The platoon of Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons failed, but Rivera was salvaged and turned into an RBI machine. He'll probably cost a multiyear deal to return, while there has been talk of moving Loney to the outfield if the Dodgers get Fielder to play first base. Jerry Sands is the best hope from the Minor League system, and he showed significant improvement during his September callup.
The biggest salaries coming off the books are Rafael Furcal ($14 million), Broxton ($7 million), Garland ($5 million), Blake ($4 million net after buyout) and Juan Pierre (the Dodgers paid $3.25 million of his White Sox salary). That's $33 million for players who contributed very little last year. If the Dodgers are able to just keep the payroll at last year's $110 million, even with raises to Kemp and Kershaw, there should be enough for a major acquisition.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.