Off Base
The Hot Stove Burns Slowly

November 30, 2008, 2:26 p.m. Way too slowly for my taste. And for those of us who view baseball as the only sport that matters, the pace of this offseason is absolutely excruciating.

But better to get it done properly than quickly. Unfortunately, the Dodgers are showing that neither seems to be the likely result. Especially at the oh-so-important shortstop position, which is what we'll concern ourselves with here.

I'm still holding out hope that Ned Colletti will swoop in and give the gift of Rafael Furcal for the holidays, but I'm not counting my chickens (or turkeys) with any great confidence.

An argument can be made that a Furcal return is keyer (uh, more key) to the blue's 2009 fortunes than is a Manny, and it's not all that much of a stretch. Not when you consider the options at short. Dodger Berroa turned out to be a serviceable enough backup in 2008, and it's conceivable that some club with nothing to lose, and who can't afford to pay for a real shortstop, will catch lightening in a bottle by signing Berroa, but the Dodgers don't fit the description.

Even less worthy of merit is this notion of holding the position open for Ivan DeJesus, Jr. to eventually fill, and because of his presence in the organization, you go out of your way to avoid signing a veteran to a multi-year deal. It's just lame.

DeJesus may one day be a regular shortstop, but then again, he might not amount to a thing. There's just no telling. DeJesus could very well end up as just another in a long line of players the Dodgers have relied upon and overrated to their detriment. And I'm sorry, but Chin-Lung Hu will never be a useful major league player.

Rafael Furcal, on the other hand, is a great player; an absolute must sign for Los Angeles. He's worth three high-salaried years, and if necessary, a fourth.

It's a mistake to categorize Raffy as injury prone. It's simply not true. 2007 lands squarely on the shoulders of that idiot Jason Repko. Prior to that, Furcal had averaged 153 games over the previous five seasons. He had a serious back injury in 2008, which the Dodgers doctors handled badly. And it's history now. You have to sign him. You have to sign him.

Getting outbid by the Athletics is not acceptable, and if it's Frisco, even worse. I think the Oakland thing started as a bluff, and that Furcal really wants to come back, but he's not going to sit around forever. The Dodgers not making an offer should be seen as nothing other than negligence.

I'm not sure what Los Angeles is doing, in signing absolutely no one and letting all their free agents leave unabated, but waiting for bargains will work to some extent. It'll fill some key spots on the roster in January, it's just that leadoff-hitting shortstops won't be one of them. Short needs to be resolved quickly.

As for Jack Wilson, the Bucs seem to have gone the Leonard Tose route. First they happily take Andy LaRoche, while arranging for Manny's silver-platter delivery to L.A. and Jason Bay's to Boston, and now they're actively pursuing Hu and Delywn Young in exchange for one of their few remaining commodities, a starting shortstop. Mind-boggling.

Whatever. Westlake Village-grown Wilson would be a respectable Dodger hole-plugger for a year, but he's no better than fourth best-qualified for the job.

As much as bleep as I gave Colletti for his failure to bring in a legitimate replacement for Furcal last year, and as much I'm harping on the Dodgers to re-sign him now, my admiration for the next best thing in Orlando Cabrera is equally strong.

This is as unsung a player as there is in the sport, a solid defender and one-time Gold Glover, who never gets hurt and just plain hits the crap out of the ball.

While Cabrera hasn't had double-figure homers since 2004, he's done it four times, and is a lock for 35 or 40 doubles, 60 to 80 RBIs and 20 steals. And a good enough lead-off man. He's essentially Furcal's twin, minus the switch-hitting; and a can't miss acquisition. I love the guy.

Edgar Renteria is of similar quality. His stock dropped in Detroit in 2008, but not as far as stock dropped in Detroit in 2008. Renteria did manage to hit .300 over the last two months of the season, and it would be like him to rebound strongly in 2009. A good option, albeit a distant third place as far as the Dodgers are concerned, or ought to be.

Like the shortstops already mentioned, Cesar Izturis is a free agent worth considering. He's just as good around the infield as you remember him as a Dodger, and a more capable hitter than he's getting credit for now. He'd be a better match for a team with a surplus of mashers, but if the Dodgers insist on a one-year shortstop, while spending big on other pieces (i.e., CC Sabathia and Manny), Izturis is a good solution.

Meanwhile, we wait. Clubs must offer arbitration to their exiting free agents by Monday, and players have the week to respond. The winter meetings start December 8. Hopefully, we'll see some movement then, and the Dodgers can get started with their offseason program, assuming there is one.

For what it's worth, Furcal signed well after Thanksgiving the last time, in 2006, on December 19 to be precise. And when Manny chose Boston in the year 2000, it was December 19. Nomar Garciaparra signed with the Dodgers in 2005, on December 19. So there's that.

There are way too many unsubstantiated rumors involving all kinds of free agent and trade possibilities to be detailed here, so I won't bore you. Of the stuff I've come across, the reports that make the most sense center around teams who are intent on reducing payroll.

Some clubs, like Arizona, are looking to trade high-salaried players and let their free agents walk. As we've discussed in previous columns, Randy Johnson fits into that category, and would make a good Dodger. Houston and Randy Wolf, the same thing. I can see the Dodgers bringing Wolf back on a one or two year deal.

The White Sox are an intriguing example too, with Jermaine Dye being of particular interest. The Dodgers would have to give up something to get him, but Dye would be an excellent choice should Manny end up elsewhere. He's in his walk year, still hits for average and power, has done well in his years of postseason play, and has won a Gold Glove.

It might be too dreamy a thing to contemplate, but both Chisox gm Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen like speedy little slap-hitting center fielders. I'm just saying.

Talkback: Your comments are always encouraged…

Media Savvy: In ranking utility infielder Ramon Martinez 141st on his free agent tracker, Yahoo's Jeff Passan said this: "Three more seasons and he’ll actually have had as long of a career as the good Ramon Martinez."

On Roy Campanella's birthday, from the Brooklyn Eagle.

And from the Onion, the best of the Lesser-Known Awards In Major League Baseball:

"The John Kruk Award: Given to the first baseman with the highest batting average and one testicle.

Hardware House Inc. Tarp of the Year Award: Goes to the year's most effective tarp.

Tums Trophy: Bestowed upon the player with the most-improved digestion in the league.

Player of the Inning Pen: Awarded every inning of each game to the player who best exemplifies that inning.

Batter of the Future Award: Recognizes each league's best guy on deck

Participant of the Year: Conferred upon the last few players not to get awards."

Statue for Sandy: The Koufax in bronze campaign continues. Please Vote “Yes on 32.” And tell a friend…

Remember, glove conquers all….







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