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Winter Meetings could go quietly

Young talent gives Dodgers options at Meetings

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago, uncertain whether the kids were ready, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti spent $125 million signing free agents Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf, Juan Pierre, Luis Gonzalez, Nomar Garciaparra and Mike Lieberthal.

Then he watched the kids outperform the veterans.

So, while Colletti is currently "on" every impact free agent and trade target rumored to be available -- the list includes Miguel Cabrera, Johan Santana, Erik Bedard, Andruw Jones and Aaron Rowand -- he sounds more likely than ever to come away from next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., with the same roster core he'll take there.

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"There is potential for change," Colletti said this week. "But as we look at how the younger players performed the past year, we're less likely to fill in as much as in the past and more likely to give the younger players greater responsibility."

The Dodgers are most often mentioned as possible trade partners with Florida (Cabrera), Minnesota (Santana) and Baltimore (Bedard) exactly because the Dodgers' farm system has been so productive in recent years. Everybody wants their prospects.

Including Colletti, or so it sounds. Maybe it's just negotiating rhetoric, but every hint Colletti drops seems in lockstep with comments he and owner Frank McCourt made at season's end about staying the course with the youth movement. The fact that he considers the current free-agent market thin helps make the case.

"With every team's emphasis on younger players, every team is trying to find it -- that's the nature of the game, and when you've got that currency, it's a big decision to start to tear that down," Colletti said.

He said he is intrigued by the potential of the young players to improve on their already significant achievements. While acknowledging that the club's offense needs more power, he suggested that it could come from James Loney and Matt Kemp, both major targets of other clubs in trade talks. If Cabrera is not acquired, Colletti could turn to Andy LaRoche at third base.

The hiring of manager Joe Torre was viewed by fans and current Dodgers players as a sign that the club would aggressively add to the roster, but recent comments by executives are more sobering.

Winter Meetings

Even Torre, no longer with the luxury of the game's highest payroll, is singing from the same songbook as he talks about the joys of managing an energetic young lineup while warning of unintended consequences from multiple-player trades that trigger high replacement costs.

"You have to make sure if you plug one hole," said Torre, "you don't create another one."

Colletti also doesn't seem inclined to veer off his course just to respond to aggressive recent moves by the Angels.

"You have to be wise," said Colletti. "You can't do a deal just to do a deal. The long-term stability of the franchise is more important that the quick hit. You juggle that if you can make a move that helps the club for a while, then you have to consider doing it."

For Colletti, "a while" seems to be two years. That's how long he would have Cabrera under control in a trade, although he doesn't seem to have the stomach for Florida's demand of three top players. Santana has a no-trade clause, so even if Colletti satisfied Minnesota's player demands, a big-money contract extension would need to be negotiated, making that player even less likely to join the Dodgers.

Other more likely paths the Dodgers could take would be the international market, where Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is the prime target, and second-tier trades, where a player such as former Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre makes sense if Seattle would deal him for a lesser package than Cabrera would require.

While looking for starting pitching depth and middle-of-the-order hitting in the Music City, Colletti also has specific needs on the bench. Through free agency, he has lost his primary pinch-hitters, utility infielders and backup catcher. He also needs a durable arm to replace reliever Rudy Seanez.

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

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