Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti has a lot of decisions to make over the next couple of weeks, but few figure to be as difficult or time consuming as the one regarding catcher Russell Martin.
The team has until Dec. 2 to offer Martin a contract or allow him to become a free agent. Martin made $5 million last year when a hip injury limited him to a career-low 97 games, and he could make more next season in salary arbitration if the Dodgers keep him.
“Russell’s the one that we’re going to spend the most time debating,” Colletti said Tuesday during a break at Major League Baseball’s annual general managers’ meetings. “He’s coming off a different kind of injury — and a serious injury. So he’s somebody we’ve spent a lot of different conversations [on] trying to figure out what would be best.”
Beyond the injury, what concerns the Dodgers is that Martin’s production has dropped dramatically since he made All-Star appearances in 2007 and 2008. He has hit only .249 since then — 23 points below his career average — and with fewer home runs than he hit in 2008 alone.
Still, the Dodgers haven’t given up on the 27-year-old, and they may try to bring him back for less It’s an option that may appeal to Martin since it would allow him to avoid a free-agent market already crowded with catchers.
Failing that, they could turn to the catchers they used down the stretch last season: 29-year-old A.J. Ellis, who hit .278 in 108 at-bats, and 35-year-old Rod Barajas, who joined the Dodgers in a late-season trade and is now a free agent. Combined, they would cost the Dodgers just a fraction of what Martin earned last season.
And lastly, there are free-agent upgrades, including Yorvit Torrealba and Miguel Olivo, both 32. Torrealba batted .271 with seven home runs and 37 runs batted in last season for the San Diego Padres. Olivo batted .269 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies.
“There are options. But that said, we’re partial to those guys we know; to those who play for us,” Colletti said. “So it’s something that’s going to take time to sort out.”
The picture is a little bit clearer elsewhere. James Loney, despite rumors the team is looking to trade him, is all but certain to return at first base. And although Colletti said the Dodgers have “a couple of position-player spots we’ve got to sort through,” the team is not expected to enter the bidding for free-agent slugger Adam Dunn or make an offer on Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a 26-year-old switch-hitting shortstop for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines.
Pitching, though, could be an area where the Dodgers are active. Although the team has already spent $45 million to bring back free-agent pitchers Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda — who join Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw to give the Dodgers the makings of a solid rotation — Colletti said he’s not done shopping for arms.
“I really believe you have to have as much pitching as possible. And if there’s another starter or two out there that we could go after, I’d be open-minded to doing it,” he said. “Plus the bullpen is always in flux.”
In 2009, Dodgers relievers led the National League with 37 wins and led the majors with a 3.14 earned-run average. But even though the team started last spring with nearly the same relief corps, the bullpen’s ERA jumped to 4.07
“The performance was nowhere near as good as it was the year before,” Colletti said. “So it’s another area we’re always looking at.”