Predicting the future of Dodgers free agents

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
1:12
PM PT
For a team with 11 impending free agents, the Los Angeles Dodgers have relatively easy decisions to make regarding each of them. None of their free agents will demand endless hours of the front office's time as the sides negotiate some mega-contract to keep a homegrown superstar from bolting.

Each of the Dodgers' free agents are, as they say, role players. The only two everyday players are Mark Ellis and Juan Uribe. Ellis has already been replaced by Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, who signed earlier this week. The only core pitchers are a No. 4 starter, Ricky Nolasco, and an eighth-inning setup man, Brian Wilson, important but not irreplaceable players.

The Dodgers already have set the narrative for the remainder of their offseason. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly (who looks as if he no longer will become a free agent) said it concisely. The Dodgers want to get younger and, as a result, more athletic and less injury-prone.

That should be the lens through which we see each of the following free-agent decisions. We'll rank the free agents in reverse order of relevance and predict whether they will be with the team next spring:

Jerry Hairston Jr.

He's one of the most likeable guys the Dodgers had last year and a good clubhouse guy, because he can roll with a joke and moves easily between various cultures. His versatility also proved important to the Dodgers at times in his two seasons in L.A. They could put him at any position besides pitcher and catcher and he could hold his own. There aren't many guys like that.

He'll be 38 next May, he has been bothered by serious injuries each of the past two seasons. He'll make a great broadcaster some day and he'll have to decide whether he's ready to embark on a new career now or try to latch on with a team on a minor league deal.

Prediction: walks

Edinson Volquez

This was a nice zero-risk move by the front office, scooping him up from the San Diego Padres after they released him. He gave them five starts -- some awful, some decent, some pretty good -- allowing the Dodgers to rest their main starting pitchers for the playoffs.

A few years ago, the Dodgers might have taken a flyer on Volquez to help fill out their No. 4 and 5 rotation spots. Not under these owners. They have far grander designs. If they acquire a pitcher, it probably will be a star-caliber one, not a guy who's questionable to even make the rotation. If he comes back, it would have to be on a minor league deal with the agreement that he will pitch in Triple-A until the Dodgers need him.

Prediction: walks

Chris Capuano

He handled it with class when the Dodgers left him off their NLCS roster even though he had given them three scoreless innings in the previous round. But like some of the other pitchers on this list, he just doesn't seem to fit the Dodgers' current mandate: to win at whatever cost. He might turn out to be a nice bottom-of-the-market signing for a team on a budget looking for a left-hander who can either start or be a reliever. Hard to see that team being the Dodgers.

Prediction: walks

Skip Schumaker

He's a versatile, hard-working player who blends in well and adds some edge and intensity to the clubhouse, always good things. But he'll be 34 on Opening Day and his career just isn't moving in the right direction. His at-bats have declined every season since 2008 aside from a tiny spike last year. He was given the starting center fielder job in the National League Division Series and struggled (3-for-16), perhaps prompting the Dodgers to rush Andre Ethier back. That didn't work out either.

With four outfielders expected to be ready on Opening Day and with Guerrero less likely an injury risk than Ellis, it seems he may not be in the plans.

Prediction: walks

Carlos Marmol

In some ways, he was the same guy as Volquez in a different role. He was a mess with his previous team, but he still had good velocity and the Dodgers figured he might benefit from working with their respected pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt. He probably did, too, pitching to a 2.53 ERA and 1.43 WHIP for the Dodgers. He gave them a couple of scoreless innings in the playoffs.

If the Dodgers liked what they saw in his mechanics and his contract demands are modest, he's at least a possibility. It will depend on what else the Dodgers see out there in the reliever market.

Prediction: walks

Michael Young

Even though he was the newest member of the team, he might have taken that Game 6 loss as hard as anyone in the clubhouse. He just turned 37 and there are rumors Young will retire, so that might have been his last crack at winning a World Series after four straight trips to the postseason. He likely will relive each of his pinch-hitting appearances in the playoffs. Many of them were rough. He went 1-for-10.

If he does retire, he won't make the Hall of Fame, but he'll make the Hall of Very, Very Good.

Prediction: walks

Nick Punto

Some called him the Little Pony. Others called him Shredder. He was a big part of what the Dodgers did last year, filling in for large chunks of the season when either Ellis or Hanley Ramirez was hurt. He was a better defender at shortstop than Ramirez.

After a bad season in Boston, Punto revived his value with a solid season in an important role. It will come down to what he wants. If he's looking for another two-year, $3 million deal, that might be a stretch, but the Dodgers probably will offer him a one-year deal and he just might take it since he seemed to like playing close to his Orange County home.

Prediction: stays

J.P. Howell

We're getting into the section of this exercise where, if the player leaves, it would impact the functioning of the team. Howell was an outstanding No. 2 option against left-handed hitters behind Paco Rodriguez all season, and then took over the top spot when Rodriguez's heavy workload caught up to him by September.

It's impossible to imagine the Dodgers don't take a crack at keeping him, but they might have to act early. Last year, Randy Choate signed with the Cardinals, because the Dodgers, reasonably, didn't want to commit a third year to him. Because Howell won't turn 31 until April, he seems like a reliable bet, if there is such a thing in the reliever market.

Prediction: stays

Ricky Nolasco

This might have been a different question before Sept. 14 than it was afterward, when Nolasco's season seemed to unravel with three awful starts and a questionable one in the playoffs. Somebody is going to give him a pretty hefty contract, because Nos. 3 and 4 starters are expensive these days. But with Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett possibly returning in time for Opening Day, it doesn't seem as if that team will be the Dodgers.

Prediction: walks

Mark Ellis

This one will hurt. He's the lowest-maintenance guy in the clubhouse. You'd hardly know he was there. He's always prepared to play, always makes the right decision (OK, other than that San Francisco game at the end of 2012) and virtually always catches the ball and throws it accurately. But the Dodgers want to get younger and he's 36 with a lot of injury mileage on his body.

I suspect he'll play next year, but not with the Dodgers.

Prediction: walks

Brian Wilson

Wilson was such a good signing, it might make him an impossible re-signing. Wilson pitched to a 0.66 ERA in 18 regular-season appearances, then didn't allow a run in six postseason appearances. His stuff didn't return to pre-elbow surgery levels, but it crept pretty close, into the 95-mph range. He's going to be looking for a closer contract and the Dodgers are happy with Kenley Jansen and already dealing with the albatross of one bad closer contract (Brandon League), so it doesn't appear to be the perfect match.

Prediction: walks

Juan Uribe

His return to form was perfect timing for him -- he could parlay a good year into a pricey free-agent deal -- and perfect timing for the Dodgers after Luis Cruz proved to be an unsustainable solution at third base. Uribe batted .278 with a solid .769 OPS while playing borderline Gold Glove defense at third base. Oh yeah, and he may have had the biggest hit of the season, that winning home run in Game 4 of the NLDS. But now what? Uribe, 34, doesn't really fit the Dodgers' mandate to get younger and, with Corey Seager inching closer to the major leagues, do the Dodgers really want to commit multiple years to him again? If the Dodgers can get him for two years, it might be a good bridge (Seager is only 19) and a way to bring back a popular player. Close call, but I suspect the Dodgers will find a way to upgrade.

Prediction: walks

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Zack Greinke
WINS ERA SO IP
11 2.73 127 118
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .307
HRA. Gonzalez 14
RBIA. Gonzalez 60
RY. Puig 53
OPSY. Puig .911
ERAC. Kershaw 1.78
SOZ. Greinke 127