The notion that the Dodgers had entered a new big-money era was dispelled Tuesday when General Manager Ned Colletti acknowledged the team was unlikely to make a run at top-line free agents such as Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols.
Asked of the possibility of adding a big bat, Colletti said, “As of today, it looks less realistic.”
The concession was made only a day after the Dodgers finalized an eight-year, $160-million contract with Matt Kemp and departing owner Frank McCourt said Colletti was free to pursue the likes of Fielder and Pujols.
The Dodgers went into the winter with Fielder atop their wish list, but Colletti said he wasn’t scheduled to meet the power-hitting first baseman’s agent at the general managers meetings in Milwaukee this week.
The Dodgers are expecting to reduce payroll next season because of their bankruptcy and impending sale, according to a person familiar with the team’s off-season plans. The Dodgers’ payroll was at around $110 million last season, including deferred payments to players who were no longer on the team.
With players such as Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier and James Loney eligible for salary arbitration and expected to receive significant raises, the Dodgers have a limited budget with which to work for the remainder of the winter.
On Tuesday, the Dodgers announced the signing of second baseman Mark Ellis to a two-year, $8.75-million contract. A defensive specialist who batted .248 for the Oakland Athletics and Colorado Rockies last season, Ellis will earn $2.5 million next year and $5.25 million in 2013. The contract includes a $5.75-million team option for 2014 that can be bought out for $1 million.
The Dodgers also signed veteran catcher Matt Treanor to a one-year, $1-million deal. Treanor, who batted .214 in 72 games for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers last season, is expected to back up A.J. Ellis.
Earlier, the Dodgers signed left fielder Juan Rivera to a one-year, $4.5-million contract.
Colletti said he was still looking to sign a backup infielder, though he was comfortable with starting the season with Justin Sellers as the utility man. He also said he was looking for a starting pitcher, adding that free agent Hiroki Kuroda is yet to indicate whether he intends to re-sign.
Colletti said at the end of the season that he wanted to sign Ethier to a long-term contract, but first he wants to see how the right fielder recovers from a knee operation.
Without a premium bat coming in, Colletti said, “We’re going to have to find other ways to produce runs.”
He said he is counting on Ethier, Loney and Juan Uribe to recover from disappointing offensive seasons and produce as they have in years past.
“Their seasons weren’t indicative of their careers,” Colletti said.
Not much offense is expected from Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis or Treanor, as Colletti said defense was a priority at their respective positions.
An analysis of advanced defensive metrics by new front-office executive Alex Tamin indicated that Ellis, 34, would be a significant upgrade at second base. As for why Ellis signed for as much as he did, Colletti explained that a run on middle infielders raised their asking prices. A similar run on middle relievers last winter led to the Dodgers signing Matt Guerrier to a three-year contract worth $12 million.