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Torre talks of need for pitching

Torre talks of need for pitching

LOS ANGELES -- That rumbling underneath Dodger Stadium on Thursday was the sound of stampeding media chasing Manny Ramirez out of the Dodgers clubhouse, his gear packed up for the winter and the frenzy over where free agency takes him well under way.

Already 36 with balky knees, Ramirez has said a six-year deal sounds nice, and may the highest bidder win. With a likely target price of $25 million annually, it won't sound so nice to the team paying it.

Dodgers fans, though, will have an even harder time swallowing the thought of Ramirez in anything other than blue after he carried their team deep into the postseason. But before meeting Thursday with general manager Ned Colletti, manager Joe Torre dropped some interesting hints about his view of winter priorities.

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"I still think pitching is something you have to pay attention to," said Torre, whose club could lose pitchers Derek Lowe, Brad Penny (the club holds an option), Joe Beimel and Chan Ho Park. And that doesn't count the uncertain future of closer Takashi Saito, who will be 39 and coming off an elbow injury.

"We all get caught up in the offensive part, but pitching should be front and center as far as being addressed."

Without Lowe and Penny, the thinned-out Dodgers rotation would be headed by 16-game winner Chad Billingsley and postseason star Hiroki Kuroda. Next on the depth chart is 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw, followed now by fellow rookie James McDonald, who looked quite comfortable in the postseason pressure cooker with all of six regular-season Major League innings on his resume.

Greg Maddux could return as a swingman/player coach at age 42, Scott Elbert isn't far away and, believe it or not, Jason Schmidt might be able to salvage the last season of his contract as he reports "instant relief" after his second shoulder operation.

Nonetheless, it looks like a rotation that could use a CC Sabathia, for example, especially if the bidding for Ramirez gets too frothy, not that Sabathia wouldn't be seeking $100 million or so.

"From the scuttlebutt I get," said Torre, "it will take some length to sign [Ramirez] and I think you have to think hard about that. He was certainly an 'A,' No. 1 citizen and I enjoyed having him here. To say I don't want him back, I'd be crazy. When you're a free agent, you're not doing yourself justice without seeing what's out there."

Ramirez obviously is the biggest piece in an outfield that also has dilemmas in Andruw Jones, who was a bust in his first season, and Juan Pierre, who was quietly unhappy about becoming a bench player. Two starting spots figure to be held down by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, unless one of them is traded.

The Dodgers also have free agents in the infield to deal with. Colletti has said he will try to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal. For all the praise given Casey Blake for his role in solidifying the lineup before Ramirez arrived, it's not clear the club wants to pay free-agent money at third base, especially after Torre said Thursday that he sees Blake DeWitt, who finished the season at second base, as a third baseman.

If the Dodgers go that way, second base becomes a position of need. Jeff Kent said he had not decided whether to retire, but the Dodgers are not planning to bring him back. Nomar Garciaparra is another free-agent infielder who said he was considering his future, and there are indications he might retire because of health issues.

Torre said there was satisfaction from his first season as Dodgers manager, but he wasn't satisfied.

"You're satisfied with how far we came, but you have to be careful about saying you're satisfied and not get to the World Series," he said. "Considering we were three games from the World Series, I'm pretty proud of how the club came together. But there's more work to be done."

Torre said he knew nothing about media reports that third-base coach Larry Bowa, signed through 2009, was a candidate to return to the Yankees as their third-base coach.

And the Seattle Times reported that Dodgers vice president and assistant general manager Kim Ng will go through a second round of interviews with the Seattle Mariners for their general manager's job, along with Jerry DiPoto of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tony LaCava of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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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