Saturday, October 29, 2011

2011 Los Angeles Dodgers off-season preview: Free agent position players

This is the third in my off-season preview series. This time, I look at the free agent market for position players. There are a few huge names available, but the rest of the market is pretty barren.

Catcher

Dodger catchers under contract: A.J. Ellis, Tim Federowicz

Available free agents
Ryan Doumit, PIT
Ramon Hernandez, CIN

Yeah, the free agent market for catchers is that thin.

Doumit: He has a a $7.25 million option for 2012 with the Pirates, but it's no sure thing it'll be exercised. He's pretty brutal behind the plate, but he's also the best offensive option of the three listed. If he hits the open market, he'd be worth a look, but I don't think the Dodgers would give more than a 1-year deal at $3- or $4 million.

Hernandez: I only included Hernandez as a formality. He's a Type-A free agent, which would cost the Dodgers' their first-round draft pick. Safe to say, that isn't going to happen.

What to do?
I'd take a flier on Doumit at the right price, but an Ellis-Federowicz platoon might be best for the Dodgers in 2012. Rod Barajas is always an option.

Corner Infield

Dodger corner infielders under contract: Russell Mitchell, Jerry Sands, Juan Uribe

Available free agents
3B Wilson Betemit, DET
1B/3B Michael Cuddyer, MIN
1B Casey Kotchman, TB
1B Prince Fielder, MIL
1B Carlos Pena, CHC
1B Albert Pujols, STL
3B Aramis Ramirez, CHC

Betemit: The former Dodger could be a cheap source of quality at-bats from the hot corner. He wouldn't cost much in terms of salary.

Cuddyer: He might be the most underrated free agent on the market, which usually leads to a team overpaying for him. He's versatile (can play all the corners and even a little second base in an absolute pinch). Cuddyer followed up a mediocre 2010 with a solid 2011 season. He'll be 33 by the time the season starts, so the Dodgers might not want to invest in him.

Kotchman: He (somehow) managed an .800 OPS this season after not achieving that mark since 2007. He's a solid defender with a light bat. Sound like someone you know (James Loney)?

Fielder: He's going to be a nice consolation price to the team that loses out on Pujols. Depending on the contracts, he could end up being a better long-term investment than Pujols, despite his weight. He'd slot in right behind Matt Kemp, if the Dodgers could actually afford him. Fielder is on of the best left-handed power hitters in the game and the Dodgers have a glaring hole at the position. It makes sense, in theory. However, I wouldn't get my hopes up.

Pena: His defense has slipped, which makes his putrid batting average an even bigger glaring weakness. He's the definition of "boom or bust."

Pujols: The prize in this year's market, Pujols is still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. Many think he'll stay in St. Louis (as I do), but he's going to command a contract in excess of $200 million. The Cubs could be hot on his trail, too. It's fortunate the Yankees and Red Sox have absolutely no room for him, or he'd be going to one of those teams. Of course, the Dodgers are the team that needs him the most, but there's that whole "money thing" again. He's the greatest hitter of the last decade-plus. He's good for another three or four years at the elite level he's playing at right now.

Ramirez: He, like Doumit, has a team option for the 2012 season. However, he can determine whether he returns to the team. Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago gives Ramirez about a 10 percent chance of returning. Ramirez is 34 but is still one of the best offensive third basemen in the game. He could get a 4-year deal on the open market. He'd be a cheaper alternative to Fielder and Pujols, but again, I wouldn't hold my breath for a big-time signing.

What to do?
Pujols and Fielder are 1 and 1a. Either would be a great signing. However, the Dodgers probably aren't in the market for either. Ramirez would be a nice consolation price, but he won't be cheap, either. The other options aren't any better the James Loney, whom the Dodgers could bring back via arbitration.

Middle Infield

Dodger middle infielders under contract: Ivan DeJesus, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers, Uribe

Available free agents
Aaron Hill, ARI
Kelly Johnson, TOR
Jose Reyes, NYM
Jimmy Rollins, PHI

Hill: This guy is a wild card. He had a breakout 2009 season, hitting 36 home runs while scoring and driving more than 100 runs. His 2010 was good in the power department (26 HR, 22 2B), but he hit a measly .205 with a .271 on-base percentage. He was doing poorly in Toronto until getting traded to Arizona in August. He hit .315/.286/.492 with the D-Backs. He had an option declined by Arizona, but I'm not 100 percent sure he's an unrestricted free agent. If he is, he'd be a nice risk at $4 or $5 million.

Johnson: The guy traded for Hill, Johnson is also somewhat of a wild card. He's hit 21-plus home runs in back-to-back seasons and knows how to take a walk. Unfortunately, he doesn't do much else at the plate. Like Hill, he could also be a nice risk at $4 or $5 million.

Reyes and Rollins: I only mention these guys because they're big names. The Dodgers have no need for either with Gordon in fold at shortstop. The Giants, however, could be in the market for both, as they're in desperate need of a shorstop. Just something to keep an eye on.

What to do?
It could be my irrational fondness of Hill, but I'd absolutely love to see the Dodgers bring him in. They have to do something, as I don't think Ned Colletti would stand for Sellers starting Opening Day at second base. DeJesus doesn't seem to be in the Dodgers' future plans after not getting a call-up. Guys like Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles could also be retained.

Outfield

Dodger outfielders under contract: Alex Castellanos, Andre Ethier, Jamie Hoffmann, Matt Kemp, Kyle Russell, Sands, Alfredo Silverio, Scott Van Slyke

I included Ethier and Kemp, even though they aren't under contract because there's no way the Dodgers non-tender them. The rookies are all internal options, with Hoffmann the only one to have made his debut.

Free agents available
Carlos Beltran, SF
Jonny Gomes, WAS
Josh Willingham, OAK

Beltran: Beltran could be a nice signing for some team, as he still has the potential to be a solid middle-of-the-order bat. He's a Type-A free agent, but there's a stipulation in his contract that he can't be offered arbitration. He might be better off heading back to the American League so he can be a designated hitter at times.

Gomes: He'd be a solid platoon partner for Ethier, even though the Dodgers wouldn't dare platooning him.

Willingham: The only way I bring in Willingham or Beltran is if the Dodgers are going to play Sands at first base. However, he's an intriguing option after hitting 29 home runs with the A's in 2011.

What to do?
The Dodgers are actually rather deep at the outfield positions. There are a lot of minor-league options, too. However, if the Dodgers trade Ethier, that could open them up to bringing in a guy to replace him (Beltran or Willingham). If not, they should just bring in a platoon guy (River or Gomes). I'd go with Rivera because of his ability to play first base and familiarity with the team.

Conclusion
The Dodgers would love to make a big splash with a guy like Fielder or Pujols, but I just don't see that happening. Taking a flier on a guy like Hill and grabbing a platoon outfielder could be the most realistic option for the Dodgers. If they want to land an impact bat, it'll likely have to come via trade (part V of my off-season preview series).

Next up: Free agent pitchers

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