Wolf won't take bite out of Dodgers' payroll

Tim Brown

Considering they've just made their first decision that could be construed as allowing them to save a few dollars, considering Frank McCourt just last week told a judge he had $167,000 in his checking account (give or take the DirecTV bill), and considering they don't seem to be among the contending parties for John Lackey(notes) or Roy Halladay(notes) despite clear needs, this would seem a strange time for this bit of Los Angeles Dodgers news, but here goes:

So far, team sources say, the baseball operations end of the ballclub is proceeding as normal.

No ownership directives to cut payroll. No warnings to stay off free agents. No screaming hissy fits in the hallways. No changing of the locks. OK, there's been changing of the locks. Maybe a couple hissy fits.

But, all in all, quiet.

Since late summer, McCourt has left the daily baseball goings-on to COO Dennis Mannion and GM Ned Colletti. He has found time between court filings to extend Colletti's contract and is willing to extend Joe Torre's contract as well, if Torre's interested. But other than the owner's (owners'?) box theatrics in the playoffs, McCourt has kept his distance, which is just as well, considering, well, considering.

Now, however, after consecutive seasons as National League runners-up, the Dodgers surely have improvement in mind, except they made a decision Tuesday that looks a little like the budget is foremost in their heads.

Fearful starting pitcher Randy Wolf(notes) would take them up on it, the Dodgers did not offer him salary arbitration. Running the comparables, they apparently came up with pitchers such as Ryan Dempster(notes) ($12.5 million in 2010), Oliver Perez(notes) ($12 million) and Derek Lowe(notes) ($15 million), and they couldn't have that, not after paying Wolf $5 million in '09.

Thing is, Wolf was their best pitcher, on a staff that was far better than the sum of its parts. At worst, he was their second-best pitcher to Clayton Kershaw(notes), but threw 40-some more innings than Kershaw. And the other thing is, every time they give up on Wolf they wish they had him back. They let him walk after '07 and he killed it with Houston down the stretch in '08. They rode him through '09, then pushed him to the back of the NLCS rotation, which didn't turn out to be a great idea.

Nobody's lining up to pay Wolf $15 million a season, but $10 million or $12 million for a No. 3 starter on a large-market club who the season before pitched 214 1/3 innings and had an ERA of 3.23? When you have serious doubts about the guy (Chad Billingsley(notes)) you thought might be an ace – or at least a No. 2 – by now? When your real No. 1, Kershaw, is 21 years old?

Is that so bad?

They can still sign Wolf, of course, and maybe that's the grander plan, but you can bet agent Arn Tellem isn't settling for any more one-year contracts for Wolf (perhaps another argument for offering arbitration and then gathering up the draft picks). The Dodgers could also dabble less in free agents and more in the trade market, where after Roy Halladay a club could put together a deal for Edwin Jackson(notes) (he might cost the Dodgers more than Danys Baez(notes) and Lance Carter(notes), their haul for him from Tampa Bay four years ago), Bronson Arroyo(notes), Aaron Harang(notes), Javier Vazquez(notes), Josh Johnson(notes), Lowe, et al.

In fact, given the economic state of the game, an underwhelming class of free agents, the potential for a lot of players to accept arbitration (and avoid the embarrassments of last winter), and some clubs looking to trim payroll, a good trade or two might be the way to go.

As one GM said Tuesday, "If you were a team this winter that was flush with cash and had a few prospects to move, you could do very well for yourself."

Translation: There is pitching to be had in Detroit, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Florida.

No one would consider the Dodgers flush with cash, certainly not now, with local predictions ranging from the McCourts having to sell, to Frank lining up investors and weathering the divorce, to Jamie wrenching the franchise out of his hands with her own investors. (The Dodgers' payroll fell nearly $20 million in '09 and could come down again in '10).

No matter how that goes, though, they're going to need starting pitching. And there was nothing wrong with paying Randy Wolf. Or taking the chance of paying Randy Wolf.

The bottom line, one had nothing to do with the other. No matter how it might have looked.

Also …

• A year-and-a-half after GM Brian Sabean thought he had a deal to acquire Adrian Beltre(notes) from the Mariners, the Giants are again in a position to make Beltre their third baseman. The Phillies are believed to be the frontrunners to sign the free agent, who could be a beast in their ballpark, but Sabean desperately needs offense and should at least give Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. some competition. In the summer of 2008, Sabean was biding time at third with Jose Castillo(notes), a little Rich Aurilia(notes) and, eventually, some Pablo Sandoval(notes). Down a bat (or three), he swung a trade with the Mariners, according to a baseball source, that was agreed on by Mariners baseball people but vetoed by president Chuck Armstrong.

• Lefty Jarrod Washburn(notes), who pitched so well for the Mariners in the first half of 2009 and so poorly for the Tigers in the second half, so far has been popular with the Twins, Brewers, Rangers and Mariners.

Nomar Garciaparra(notes), who doesn't play very often anymore and then is just so-so when he does, isn't ready to retire. He'll gauge interest this winter first. He is 36.

Orlando Hernandez(notes), who, at 44-ish, might make someone a fine reliever, will start pitching in the Puerto Rican winter league in the next week or so. El Duque hasn't thrown a big league pitch since the end of the 2007 season, when he was with the Mets.

• Seeking confirmation of an ESPN.com report that Roy Halladay would not approve a trade after the start of spring training, a source close to him said to regard it as "gospel." Halladay seems very concerned with the "media frenzy" of the last trading deadline. I was in Seattle with the Blue Jays at the deadline, and the frenzy consisted of Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer and me leaning against a wall in a corridor off the visitors' clubhouse. We weren't even talking that loud.

• After getting a peek at the price on Matt Holliday(notes) during the GM meetings, Cardinals officials are said to be pessimistic about signing the free-agent outfielder, and are concentrating more on Mark DeRosa(notes) or Miguel Tejada(notes) for third base.

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