Dodgers to test waters at Meetings

Dodgers to test the waters at Winter Meetings

ORLANDO -- Ned Colletti hasn't acquired a power hitter and doesn't know if he can.

"I'm trying," he said Wednesday after introducing the two free agents he has acquired, center fielder Juan Pierre and left-handed starting pitcher Randy Wolf. "There are more teams than players to go around. You can't just wish it. You can't make it appear out of nowhere."

Which is why, on the eve of the Winter Meetings, Colletti is becoming increasingly accepting of the possibility that, despite a tweak here and there, the Dodgers' 2007 lineup might play much as it did in 2006 -- meaning, without a significant home-run threat (unless Jeff Kent's power returns).

"Unless something I'm not aware of right now comes along, I am [ready to stand pat]," he said. "There's been so little trade talk. It's been a free-agent scramble."

Colletti was a finalist for Alfonso Soriano and never had a real shot at Aramis Ramirez, his top two hitting targets. The Dodgers viewed Carlos Lee as an American League-type player, even though he landed in Houston.

Despite much media speculation of possible trades for Manny Ramirez, Vernon Wells or Adrian Beltre, Colletti said the recent General Managers Meetings, where trade discussion generally starts, was overwhelmingly focused on free agents.

"There are so few free agents on the board that teams, if they had a need, didn't want to fall behind," he said. "Maybe next week, there will be a chance of more trades. No team is totally rebuilt through free agency."

Colletti said he remains committed to Plan B -- create a surplus of starting pitching that can be used to trade for a hitter, although he cites the convenient GM shield of tampering when specific trade targets are suggested because they belong to other clubs.

Free agent Jason Schmidt seems to be the pitching prize that could make everything fall into place. Schmidt seems to make more sense than Barry Zito among the two aces available because Colletti knows Schmidt well from their days together in San Francisco. With new trainer Stan Conte coming over from the Giants, the Dodgers would know more about Schmidt's physical condition than any other possible target in the market.

Colletti's collection of starting pitchers now includes Derek Lowe, Bred Penny, Chad Billingsley, Wolf, Hong-Chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson, Eric Stults and Brett Tomko, who spent the second half of 2006 in the bullpen. D.J. Houlton, who spent 2006 at Triple-A, also is a starter on the Major League roster.

After watching middle relievers land hefty contracts, Colletti backed off earlier comments about bolstering the bullpen through the free-agent market and said he hoped to take care of that from within.

"By and large, if you're not a starter or closer, you're asked to get three outs in the sixth, seventh or eighth inning," said Colletti. "Many times, the bullpen can be created by what you have on the staff."

If there's a surplus. There definitely wasn't a surplus of outfielders on the Dodgers' roster a week ago. The frenzy for hitters led Colletti to settle on Pierre over, say, Gary Matthews Jr., because Pierre had a clear edge in consistency and youth. At the time of the signing, J.D. Drew's sudden departure meant no outfielder on the Dodgers' roster had started for one full season in the Major Leagues.

Assuming Colletti can land a bat and it isn't a natural right fielder to replace Drew, the defensive position that player plays would set some dominoes in motion. Nomar Garciaparra could move around the infield or even to left field. Wilson Betemit could become a second baseman. Colletti has started mentioning Andy LaRoche as an outfielder, and Jason Repko is expected to return from injury.

Of course, LaRoche and Betemit could be included in trades, along with catcher Toby Hall and pitcher Mark Hendrickson. Hall is coming off a base salary of $2.25 million, more than the Dodgers want to pay a backup, which is why they have considered signing free agent Mike Lieberthal to watch Russell Martin play every day. They'll know by Friday night if the Phillies offer Lieberthal arbitration, which is unlikely but would require the Dodgers to fork over draft-pick compensation, something clubs don't do for backups.

The Dodgers are expected to offer arbitration to two of their free agents -- Julio Lugo and Greg Maddux -- for different reasons. For Lugo, it's because they expect him to reject it and sign a multiyear deal elsewhere, which would entitle the Dodgers to compensation. For Maddux, they wouldn't mind if he accepts, because that would bind him to the club for one year, not the two years he's seeking.

They are not expected to offer arbitration to Eric Gagne, Kenny Lofton, Aaron Sele or Einar Diaz. By the terms of the contract Drew voided, the Dodgers cannot offer him arbitration.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.