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It’s Time to Talk Shop

Times Staff Writers

A power hitter. A shortstop. An outfielder. A leadoff batter. A third baseman. A starting pitcher.

And, oh yes, don’t forget a manager.

The shopping list Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti planned to take to baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas was long enough to wallpaper his hotel room. But he was able to cross off “shortstop” and “leadoff hitter” when free agent Rafael Furcal accepted a three-year, $39-million offer.

The Furcal signing comes on the heels of outfielder Brian Giles’ rejecting a Dodger offer for a less lucrative deal with San Diego, the team he played for last season. Similarly, the Angels failed in their bid to sign free-agent slugger Paul Konerko, yet have immediately turned their attention to Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez in their efforts to boost an offense that was prone to lengthy slumps in 2005.

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Ramirez has asked to be traded, has tabbed Anaheim as his preferred destination, and is so desperate to leave the Red Sox that he put his luxury Boston condominium (asking price: $6.9 million) up for sale.

But the more Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman talks about the possibility of moving a top prospect or two in a blockbuster deal, the less likely it seems the Angels will acquire Ramirez.

“While no one is untouchable, the value of some of these players is really high, and it would take a whole lot to discuss any of them in a deal,” Stoneman said.

“Looking at our club, we’re pretty good. There’s no sense of panic that we have to do something.”

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One move the Dodgers must make is to hire a manager. Colletti has interviewed two candidates with significant major league experience (Jim Fregosi and Grady Little) and three coaches with strong reputations (John McLaren, Joel Skinner and Manny Acta).

Fregosi will be at the winter meetings as an advisor to the Atlanta Braves, but it is unclear whether the hire will be made in Dallas or after the meetings. Colletti will be plenty busy rebuilding the roster.

The lingering question after shoveling so much money at Furcal is whether the Dodgers have enough available payroll to fill other needs. Colletti is proceeding as if that is the case; he plans to keep spending until owner Frank McCourt tells him to stop.

That might not happen soon. Even without the Furcal signing, there were indications last week that McCourt would allow the payroll to approach $95 million, which would give Colletti another $10 million to $12 million to spend.

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The power hitter could be a second-tier free-agent outfielder such as Jeromy Burnitz, Reggie Sanders, Jacque Jones or Preston Wilson. The third baseman is expected to be Bill Mueller or Joe Randa. Both would be relatively inexpensive and the Dodgers would offer a short-term deal because top prospect Andy LaRoche is expected to be ready by 2007.

Free agent Nomar Garciaparra has expressed a willingness to play third base and was a favorite of former general manager Paul DePodesta, but Colletti has concerns about his health -- especially with so many current Dodgers coming off injuries.

The Dodgers have extended offers to several starting pitchers, including Matt Morris.

“We’ve talked to a lot of teams and have focused in on a select group of free agents,” Colletti said.

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Trading expensive pitcher Odalis Perez, troubled outfielder Milton Bradley and backup catcher Jason Phillips would free up additional money. But the Dodgers are reluctant to trade the prospects that figure into the team’s future beyond 2006.

Colletti is uneasy that he doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the top players in the minor league system and has gotten input from player development director Terry Collins and scouting director Logan White.

“It may take dipping into [the prospects],” he said of filling current needs. “I’ve asked Logan and our player development people to give me a good view of where they are, where the upside lies and the chances of them achieving the upside.

“A lot of prospects turn out to be so-so or don’t even make it. But the best case is that you fill your needs through free agency and keep the farm system intact.”

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The Angels feel the same way. They are reluctant to part with pitcher Ervin Santana or top power prospect Brandon Wood, who have come up in talks with the Red Sox about Ramirez. Wood, a shortstop, hit 43 home runs in the minors last season.

Ramirez, who hit .300 with 88 home runs and 274 runs batted in over the last two seasons, is owed $57 million over the next three seasons, though $12 million is deferred over a 16-year period beginning in 2011.

Any deal with the Angels would require the Red Sox to assume salary in the form of first baseman Darin Erstad ($8.5 million), center fielder Steve Finley ($7 million) and perhaps second baseman Adam Kennedy ($3.35 million).

But if the teams can agree on the players -- it might take a three-team deal -- the Angels won’t let Ramirez’s quirky personality block their path.

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“I don’t know Manny that well except that he loves to play the game, and he’s a terrific offensive player,” Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. “I have no more reservations with him than I’d have for anyone else who would make our club better.”

Competition for Ramirez could come from the American League West -- the Texas Rangers reportedly are interested and appear willing to part with second baseman Alfonso Soriano, who is more attractive than any big leaguer Stoneman probably would offer.

The New York Mets would love to pry Ramirez out of Boston, and Arizona and Cleveland could be players in the Manny market.

Beyond Ramirez, Stoneman could explore deals for Kansas City first baseman Mike Sweeney, Arizona third baseman Troy Glaus, Seattle third baseman Adrian Beltre or Soriano.

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Garciaparra, Sanders, Wilson, Rondell White and Frank Thomas could pique the Angels’ interest. Stoneman has informed the agent for Mike Piazza that the Angels are not interested in the former Met catcher right now.

“I’m not targeting any one specific area,” said Stoneman, who also is seeking a relief pitcher and possibly another starter. “Let’s see who’s available and what it might cost.”

Ramirez may be the focal point at the meetings, but there should be plenty of other action. Oakland is considering trading ace Barry Zito, there could be a bidding war for free-agent starter A.J. Burnett, and agent Scott Boras will seek new contracts for pitchers Kevin Millwood, Jeff Weaver, Kenny Rogers and Jarrod Washburn. Free-agent center fielder Johnny Damon also is a Boras client.


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