We still don’t know the outcome of the McCourts’ divorce and whether Frank or Jamie will end up owning the team in the long term.
But one thing we know: The Dodgers are functioning.
Maybe not quite like a team in the nation’s second-largest market should function. But functioning in a more vigorous manner than they did last offseason.
The Dodgers are not about to pursue a major free agent, mind you. But they paid market prices to retain left-hander Ted Lilly and righty Hiroki Kuroda, and they aren’t done yet.
Both the Lilly and Kuroda deals were significantly back-loaded, allowing the Dodgers to pay the two pitchers just $15 million combined in 2011. The team still needs to address its bullpen, catching situation and lack of power, but a planned increase in payroll from $95 million should make such improvements possible.
Lilly’s three-year, $33 million contract breaks down like this: $7 million in 2011, $10.5 million in ’12 and $12 million in ’13, with a $3.5 million signing bonus payable between ’11 and ’13.
Kuroda’s one-year, $12 million deal, meanwhile, includes an $8 million salary in ’11 plus a $4 million bonus payable between ’12 and ’13.
The Dodgers also re-signed left fielder Jay Gibbons to a one-year, $650,000 contract, and would still like to add more power at any or all of three positions: left field, first base and third.
A trade of first baseman James Loney — the position player the Dodgers are most willing to move, according to major-league sources — could create further payroll flexibility. Loney, in his second year of arbitration, stands to earn a raise from $3.1 million.
In a perfect world, the Dodgers would compete for the biggest free agents: Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. They are not close to that point, not with their owners still in divorce court. But some in the industry believe they overpaid for Lilly and Kuroda.
In the Dodgers’ weird way, that’s progress.
WESTBROOK, CARDINALS: GETTING CLOSE?
A week ago, the Cardinals believed their odds of retaining free-agent right-hander Jake Westbrook were no better than 50-50.
The team is now optimistic that a deal is within reach.
The re-signing of Westbrook would give the Cardinals a solid fourth starter to go with right-handers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright and lefty Jaime Garcia.
And, with both Kuroda and Westbrook off the market, the demand for the best free-agent starters in the non-Cliff Lee division — right-handers Carl Pavano and Jon Garland, and lefty Jorge de la Rosa — only would increase.
CARDINALS CONCERNS: MORE THAN JUST ALBERT
While Albert Pujols’ contract status is the issue that won’t go away for the Cardinals — only one year remains on his deal — club officials are also sorting through a number of issues associated with the 2011 roster:
1. David Freese, coming off ankle surgery, is far from a sure thing at third base. Freese, who turns 28 shortly after Opening Day, has been limited by injuries to only 87 games as a big leaguer. At the very least, the Cardinals plan to acquire an insurance policy at the position.
2. The Cardinals had the worst shortstop production (.600 OPS) of any National League team last year. So, Brendan Ryan and Tyler Greene don’t exactly have the best job security at the moment. Among feasible free-agent options, Juan Uribe and Miguel Tejada would represent the biggest offensive upgrades. Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew, a left-handed hitter, should be available on the trade market.
3. Despite late-season turmoil with center fielder Colby Rasmus, one source said there is a “99 percent” chance he will return to St. Louis in 2011.
4. At the moment, right field looks like a time-share between two unproven players: right-handed Allen Craig and left-handed Jon Jay.
5. The Cardinals would like to add a catcher with offensive upside to pair with three-time Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina. Due in part to a heavy workload — 135 games — Molina seemed to wear down this year. He had his worst offensive season since 2006.
THE UGGLA WATCH
Not even the Marlins believe they can pressure second baseman Dan Uggla into accepting their $48 million offer by dangling him in trades. Sources on both sides of the talks say that Uggla is not going to waver.
Thus, one of the big questions for the Marlins is whether they would trade Uggla within the NL East to one of two interested teams, the Braves or Nationals.
“Yes they would,” one rival executive says, “but the ask is very high.”
The Braves are deep in young pitching, but so are the Blue Jays, who are also pursuing Uggla. The Nationals can offer a catcher and young bullpen arms, two areas of need for the Marlins. But there are still indications that the Nats’ preference is to re-sign free-agent first baseman Adam Dunn.
The Giants consider Uggla less of a priority — they are first trying to sign their own free agents, like first baseman Aubrey Huff and infielder Juan Uribe. But other teams — including the Red Sox — might also be involved.
One thing to keep in mind: Uggla is the only second baseman in history with four 30-homer seasons. Some of his suitors want to move him to third base or left field, which could diminish his value as a free agent next offseason.
Then again, after the big three first basemen — Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder — Uggla might be the most attractive position player in next year’s market.
JAYS’ BLUEPRINT HAS MOVING PARTS
The Blue Jays’ starting third baseman in 2011 might be someone who is already on the roster.
The odd part: Neither of the leading internal candidates played third base as his primary position this year.
Jose Bautista started 113 games in right field. Aaron Hill started 137 games at second base. But partly because of circumstances beyond the players’ control, one of them could end up at third base on Opening Day.
Find a good right fielder? Move Bautista to third.
Find a good second baseman, such as Uggla? Move Hill to third.
The free-agent market at second isn’t particularly strong, unless the Jays are keen on a return engagement with Orlando Hudson, who last played for them in 2005.
Edgar Renteria looks like an intriguing possibility — he mentored current Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar while both were in Atlanta — but Renteria probably couldn’t withstand 81 games on the artificial surface.
The Jays’ lineup plans have another hinge at first base/designated hitter. Adam Lind will be one or the other.
Sources say the Jays would like to give Lind another chance to play first. If that occurs, free agent Lyle Overbay likely won’t return to Toronto, and the Jays would begin shopping for a new DH. Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Russell Branyan are among the options.
WHITE SOX MERRY-GO-ROUND
Could free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko emerge as a possibility for the Dodgers, his original team? Maybe — if the Dodgers trade Loney and Konerko is willing to take less money to play near his offseason home in Arizona.
Konerko earned $12 million per season during his five-year deal with the White Sox. The Diamondbacks probably cannot approach that figure, and the Dodgers might not, either.
The Angels, a team that pursued Konerko the last time he was a free agent, also could be a possibility. But Kendry Morales will be back at first base, and Konerko would need to accept more of a DH role.
Thus, it remains possible that Konerko will stay with the White Sox. Ditto for catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who enjoys a close relationship with owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
AROUND THE HORN
Sandy Alderson, the new Mets general manager, is showing remarkable resolve following the death of his father over the weekend. In the midst of the team’s managerial search, Alderson is driving between baseball meetings in Orlando and family gatherings in St. Petersburg. Alderson interviewed Jose Oquendo for the managerial opening on Monday evening and said he hopes the process will continue on the same pace despite his personal obligations.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Monday that Andy Pettitte hasn’t established a clear timetable for letting the team know whether he plans to pitch in 2011. What if Pettitte and free agent Cliff Lee both make their decisions in late December? It could be a very Merry Christmas in the Bronx — or exactly the opposite.
When the prospect of an Adrian Gonzalez-to-Boston deal is raised, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is invariably mentioned as a candidate to be shipped to San Diego. But at the moment, the Padres have much greater needs around the infield than in the outfield. With the acquisition of Cameron Maybin, San Diego has an astounding 11 outfielders on its 40-man roster.
Funny how the game works: The two players the Rangers wanted most from the Braves for Mark Teixeira in July 2007 were not shortstop Elvis Andrus and closer Neftali Feliz. No, the Rangers were focused most on catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and center fielder Jordan Schaefer, according to an official with knowledge of the discussions. The Braves parted with Saltalamacchia but not Schaefer. Feliz surpassed both, becoming AL Rookie of the Year.
New Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wanted Jerry Narron to be his bench coach, according to a major-league source, but Narron went to the Brewers instead. Two of Hurdle’s former colleagues from the Rockies — roving minor-league instructor Scott Fletcher and Triple A manager Stu Cole – could end up on the Pirates’ staff.
Reds general manager Walt Jocketty received his Sporting News Executive of the Year award Monday night, joining Hall of Famer Branch Rickey as the only three-time winner. Jocketty previously was honored in 2000 and ’04 when he was GM of the Cardinals. The award, determined by a vote of executives, earned Jocketty a new nickname among some of his fellow GMs. You guessed it: Branch.