Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports has examined the offseason of every MLB team before the beginning of spring training. Our series concludes with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
2008 record: 84-78
Finish: First in NL West
2008 opening-day payroll: $118.5 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $79 million to $104 million
Anyone who delights in following protracted negotiations, the thrust-and-parry of offers, counteroffers, bluffs and counter-bluffs, would have enjoyed the Dodgers' offseason. The rest of the team's fans, not so much.
Manny Ramirez hasn't signed yet, and the two power-hitting outfielders the Dodgers were counting on as fallback options – Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn – are off the market, having committed to the Los Angeles Angels and Washington Nationals, respectively.
So the perception that Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti had outwitted agent Scott Boras by waiting him out until the eve of spring training might have taken a turn. The leverage shifted slightly toward Ramirez when Abreu and Dunn evaporated. Perhaps Colletti will bump up the Dodgers' offer to $25 million in each of the next two seasons. That would double the latest offer of one year at $25 million and would also be better than the original two-year, $45 million offer that included $15 million in 2009, $22.5 million in 2010 and a team option with a $7.5 million buyout. Ramirez has already established that he doesn't care for option years, so why bother including one?
The Dodgers would recoup much of the investment in increased attendance and Manny-related merchandise. Home attendance increased by about 4,000 a game after Manny was acquired at mid-season. Assuming each fan spent $50 over the 40 games at Dodger Stadium, Ramirez brought in an extra $8 million in revenue. It's doubtful those numbers could be sustained over a full season, but no doubt Boras mentions them periodically to Colletti.
Additions so far might have improved the Dodgers, but the current roster won't increase attendance unless the sum of the parts produces a consistent winner. Shortstop Rafael Furcal and third baseman Casey Blake were reeled in from free agency and re-signed, enabling up-and-coming Blake DeWitt to take over at second base in place of the retired Jeff Kent. Mark Loretta was signed as a top-flight utility infielder.
Left-hander Randy Wolf is back for a second L.A. tour after signing a one-year, $5 million deal and will slide into the No. 4 spot in the rotation. Congenial veteran Brad Ausmus will back up Russell Martin at catcher.
Rarely have the Dodgers gone to spring training so thin in pitching. Wolf joins a rotation featuring Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda. The fifth starter? Jason Schmidt will give it one more try before that ill-advised three-year, $47 million contact expires. James McDonald is an exciting prospect, but plugging him into the rotation in April could be rushing him. Jeff Weaver, anyone?
Even the incumbents have issues. Billingsley is solid and getting better, but he has to live down failing to protect his own hitters in the NLCS when he wouldn't retaliate against the Philadelphia Phillies. He also has to prove he is recovered from a serious offseason leg injury. Kershaw has outrageous stuff, but he's 20 and maybe joins McDonald in being rushed. Kuroda, in his second year after coming over from Japan, is a middling what-you-see-is-what-you-get pitcher.
The bullpen is even more questionable. Takashi Saito, a reliable closer for three years until injuries felled him last season, left for Boston as a free agent, surprising the Dodgers. Jonathan Broxton will be fine as the closer, but there's the eighth inning, and the seventh, and left-handed batters to retire, and those inevitable long stints, and precious few proven pitchers to fill those roles. Guillermo Mota, who pitched effectively for the Dodgers from 2002 to 2004, could be the set-up man.
Without Ramirez, the Dodgers would play Juan Pierre in left field. It wouldn't be a total disaster – Colletti thought enough of him before the 2007 season to give him $45 million over five years. Pierre would get his 190 hits and 50 stolen bases; the Dodgers would have to absorb his abhorrent arm, negligible power and dismal on-base percentage.
Otherwise, the lineup is the same one that carried the Dodgers to the NL West title down the stretch. Rising youngsters Martin, DeWitt, first baseman James Loney, center fielder Matt Kemp and right fielder Andre Ethier all could improve their 2008 numbers.
So much rests on Ramirez. His impact last season can't be overstated. His presence in the middle of the lineup made all the youngsters better. Not to mention, they like the guy. He keeps it loose. Manager Joe Torre handles him well. It's up to Colletti and owner Frank McCourt to step up their offer to get it done. Or Ramirez could take a one-year deal in San Francisco to spite them.