With the Dodgers less than an hour removed from recording their final out of the season, Andre Ethier let himself look ahead to the day they reach the World Series.
What Ethier imagined was the same cast of players, only older. What he imagined was a team resembling the Philadelphia Phillies club that eliminated them from the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
“They have a whole different identity than us,” Ethier said. “They’re built around that core lineup that has a lot of power. I don’t think anyone in baseball is represented that well. It’s tough to try to duplicate that. But I think we’re developing guys here that can become those guys that they have over there.”
Can Ethier, Matt Kemp, James Loney and Russell Martin turn into Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz?
That’s what the Dodgers are counting on.
For better or worse, the Dodgers’ lineup won’t look significantly different next season, a byproduct of the game’s economic realities.
Eight Dodgers will be eligible for salary arbitration this winter: Ethier, Kemp, Loney, Martin, Jonathan Broxton, Chad Billingsley, George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo.
The kids are no longer kids, meaning they’ll have to be paid like adults.
Those eight players figure to earn around $20 million in raises. Unless Manny Ramirez unexpectedly declines his $20-million option for 2010 -- who else would pay him that much? -- General Manager Ned Colletti won’t have much money to spend on the free-agent market this winter.
The salaries of players who had similar statistics and the same amount of major league service time are used to determine compensation for arbitration-eligible players -- and the numbers posted by the Dodgers’ young players figure to make several of them first-time millionaires.
Among them are Kemp, Loney and Billingsley, who earned $465,000 to $475,000 this season. Kuo, who earned $437,000, could also be part of that group if the Dodgers decide his troublesome left elbow is worth the financial risk.
Kemp is expected to receive the greatest increase in pay of the players who are arbitration-eligible for the first time, as his .297 average, 26 home runs and 101 runs batted in put him in line for a 2010 salary in excess of $4 million.
Ethier, who drew a base salary of $3.1 million, will be arbitration-eligible for the second time. Based on his service time, Ethier’s .272 average, 31 home runs and 106 runs batted in figure to translate into a salary of around $7 million.
Martin ($3.9-million base salary in 2009), Broxton ($1.825 million) and Sherrill ($2.75 million) will also get considerable raises.
In short, the kids better produce next season -- especially if Ramirez fails to reemerge as the middle-of-the-lineup terror that landed him a $45-million contract in the spring and Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf depart to greener pastures, as expected.
Veteran third baseman Casey Blake pointed out that the Dodgers won without Ramirez -- they were 29-21 over his 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy -- and that the burden the young players shouldered this season should benefit them in the future.
“The individual efforts of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp stick out in my mind,” he said.
Kemp said the group no longer thinks of itself as being young.
“We threw that off this year,” he said. “I’m a major league baseball player. I know what I need to be successful. Everybody here knows what they need to do to help the team win.”
The Dodgers might have finished the season three wins short of the World Series as they did a season ago, but Martin said he felt they were closer to winning the pennant.
“The team that we had this year, I thought it was good enough to get to the promised land,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t change our team. I think we were more consistent, a little bit more experienced, a little bit better.”
But Colletti said their NLCS opponents provided them with a reminder of how far they had to go.
“Their bats are relentless,” Colletti said of the Phillies. “That’s where we need to be. That’s where we need to go. We had some great advancement from some of our younger players this year. That needs to continue where the focus becomes keener pitch-to-pitch, especially this time of year.
“I think that you mature into that. They’re a very solid team. They grew into it. When you look at the core of their group, their core is 29, 30, 31 years old. They’ve been through a lot more than our group has been through.”