LOS ANGELES — Free-agent Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is high on the Dodgers’ radar, with general manager Ned Colletti saying Wednesday heâs spoken several times with Casey Close, Tanaka’s agent.
Close represents current Dodgers pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
"Casey and I go back quite a while, so I’ve had a few conversations with him," Colletti said.
"They’re in the feeling-out process. They’re trying to learn a lot about different cities, different markets, different teams, how teams are constructed, how teams are going forward. It’s a big decision for the player too. Weâve had those types of conversations, and we’ll continue and see where it goes."
The team that signs Tanaka will have to pay the right-hander’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, a $20-million posting fee. That’s in addition to Tanaka’s expected multiyear contract, which could reach $100 million or more.
A number of teams are likely to submit offers to Close, including the Angels. Tanaka and Close reportedly are scheduled to meet with the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox this week.
Puig and speeding
Colletti expressed disappointment in the recent arrest of Yasiel Puig for speeding in Florida but said it was time for the young outfielder to take responsibility for his actions.
Puig has been arrested twice for driving over the speed limit since he arrived from Cuba in June 2012.
Puig, 23, won praise this offseason for inviting kids to Dodger Stadium to play baseball, but some of that luster has worn off as a result of his arrest.
"I don’t condone what he’s done," Colletti said. "Since the offseason began, he’s spent a lot of time in L.A., and he’s really spent a lot of time with kids in neighborhoods, playing baseball. I look outside my (office) window one night and there’s 50 Little Leaguers on the field, and it’s his idea. He’s setting this great example, and he’s doing stuff that I really haven’t seen many big league players ever do within the community."
Colletti said he spoke with Puig the same day he was arrested.
"I said, ‘You’ve done all this wonderful stuff in the community. How do you plan on explaining this to the kids? What if something tragic had happened? How are you going to explain that to the kids?’ "
Colletti said there were no plans to have a full-time chaperone accompany Puig next season, although the team will make sure he continues to receive education on the dangers of driving too fast.
"Puig's doing stuff in the community that I've never seen big-leaguers do. At the same time, there are boundaries you need to stay in." -Ned
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) January 8, 2014
Kemp starting to hit
Center fielder Matt Kemp, who missed the playoffs because of an injury to his left ankle, is out of a boot and has started to hit, Colletti said.
"We’re not rushing it," Colletti said. "We’re going to take it as deliberately as possible, as cautious as possible. As of my last report, we expect him to be playing by the time weâre in the midst of spring training."
Kemp was limited to just 73 games last season, the second year in a row he was unable to play a full schedule because of injuries. He underwent surgery on his ankle in late October and also had minor surgery to clean up his left shoulder, which caused him to miss part of the 2012 season.
Meanwhile, pitcher Josh Beckett, who had surgery to repair nerve irritation in his right arm, is expected to be ready when spring training begins in February. However, pitchers Chad Billingsley and Scott Elbert, both of whom underwent Tommy John surgery, won’t be ready to return until mid-season, Colletti said.