In baseball's version of Christmas bargain hunting, Ned Colletti made a flurry of supporting cast signings in November, because that's all his bankrupt club can afford. At next week's Winter Meetings, he can't play big spender chasing Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
Despite the splashy headlines for Matt Kemp's $160 million signing, nearly all of that will be paid by the next owner. The 2012 payroll for this team up for sale could be slashed as much as $20 million from last year's $110 million. Colletti said recently there are no current plans to give contract extensions to Clayton Kershaw or Andre Ethier.
So Colletti will try to land a rotation replacement for Hiroki Kuroda -- like Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano or Jeff Francis -- and a versatile bench player like Jerry Hairston Jr. for less than the $12 million he paid Kuroda alone in 2011.
Already, Colletti has re-signed Juan Rivera for one year plus an option at $4 million to be the starting left fielder; signed Mark Ellis for two years plus an option at $8.75 million to be the starting second baseman; and signed Matt Treanor for one year plus an option at $1 million to back up starting catcher A.J. Ellis.
Colletti needs to have spent wisely, because while the D-backs went from worst to first in 2011, the Dodgers barely cleared .500. They have finished fourth and third in the past two years, and the last time they went three years without finishing first or second was 1967-69.
Regardless of what happens in the courts, the Dodgers face a challenge on the field. Even with Cy Young Award-winning Kershaw and MVP runner-up Kemp, there are questions that probably can't be answered with four days in a Texas hotel.
The Dodgers have already committed roughly $50 million for eight signed players -- Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Juan Uribe, Matt Guerrier, Rivera, Ellis, Treanor and Kemp. They have another $30 million budgeted for six remaining arbitration-eligible players -- Kershaw, Ethier, James Loney, Hong-Chih Kuo, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Dana Eveland, with Kuo and Eveland potential non-tenders.
Assuming the Dodgers have a $90 million payroll, that leaves about $10 million for a starting pitcher, an extra infielder and a handful of minimum-wage youngsters. There might not even be room to bring back a workhorse reliever like Mike MacDougal. And that doesn't count the $10 million owed next year in deferrals to Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones.
Colletti could fill a hole by trading Ethier or Loney -- who are one year away from free agency -- but not without their departure creating a new hole on the Major League roster.
He could dip into the Minor League system and deal away some pitching depth, but that pretty much defeats the purpose of Minor League pitching depth for a club that struggles for traction in its mission to build from within.
To this point, the starting rotation is topped by Kershaw, Billingsley and Lilly, with Nathan Eovaldi an early favorite to be the fifth starter and Kuroda's slot open. The bullpen has young closer Javy Guerra, strikeout machine Kenley Jansen, workhorse Matt Guerrier, situational lefty Scott Elbert, Blake Hawksworth, Josh Lindblom and Kuo a possibility.
The starting infield will be Loney at first, Ellis at second, Dee Gordon at short, Juan Uribe at third, Justin Sellers and Russell Mitchell backing up. The outfield is Rivera in left, Kemp in center, Ethier in right, with Tony Gwynn and Jerry Sands backing up. Ellis and Treanor are the catchers.