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LOS ANGELES == The Los Angeles Dodgers began the offseason thinking big. A free-agent splash like Prince Fielder might be in order. Center fielder Matt Kemp even structured his new eight-year, $160 million contract so the team might be able to make a run at Fielder. But all of that feels like a pipe dream now as the team's still-unresolved ownership situation seems to be affecting their offseason approach.
General manager Ned Colletti said Monday that the team was essentially done with its offseason acquisitions because "we're at our payroll."
In other words, no Fielder, no Hiroki Kuroda, and not much else is coming besides the reasonably-priced veteran players the Dodgers have already signed to bolster their defense at second base (Mark Ellis), starting rotation (Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang) and flexibility on the bench (Juan Uribe and Jerry Hairston).
Colletti refused to lament the situation publicly, noting that "(the payroll) is down from a year ago. But sometimes it's not what you spend but how you spend it."
But it's clear the team was not able to meet the challenge manager Don Mattingly set forth in a radio interview in October.
"We need a bat," Mattingly said on 710 ESPNLA. "We need a bat that's solid. It's a kind of a day-in, day-out bat. We need that one-two punch. To me that's the biggest need."
Asked if he was disappointed the Dodgers were unable to make a run at a slugger like Fielder or Albert Pujols, Mattingly said:
"Obviously, when we talk about our club, it's a lot like last year. We need to stay relatively healthy and we have to have guys do what they're capable of doing.
"When it gets right down to it, if Juan (Rivera) swings the bat like he did last year, if James (Loney) swings the bat like he did the second half of last year, if Andre (Ethier) comes back and does what we know he is capable of and Matt (Kemp) is doing his thing, we're going to look like a pretty good offensive club.
"If two out of those five guys are really struggling then we're not going to look like a very good club. At the end of the day, guys will have to perform."
Initial bids for the Dodgers are due to the New York-based investment ground handling the sale by January 23. The team isn't expected to be sold until sometime in April, however.
While there has been no direct link between the Dodgers' lowered-payroll this offseason to the sale, it's clear that the team has made very few expensive or long-term commitments since re-signing Kemp to the largest contract in National League history this fall.
Colletti offered a clue to how the team is approaching this season by noting that he had been talking to free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda's agents up until a few days ago about "other ways to figure this out" because "we used the money we would've had for him and had to spread it out some."
Colletti wouldn't specify what options were discussed. But the only options that would've worked under those parameters essentially would be a back-loaded, two-year deal, or something that wouldn't have impacted the team's Opening Day payroll so deeply.
"We've stayed in it, but I think at this point in time we've probably exhausted the different choices," Colletti said. "I think he's going to end with an American League club, from what I can gather.
"He pitched well here. He was competitive, good to have on the club, competitive. As you look back on the four years, some of the bigger games we had here he ended up pitching pretty well. We'll miss him. He adjusted well to America and from all indications from him and his family, it was a good experience for him too."
Instead of making a splash now, the Dodgers will likely do what they have done the last few seasons. Try to stay competitive in the first few months of the season in order to convince ownership to expand the payroll at the trading deadline.
"I think we're in a decent spot right now to be competitive and to make more decisions in July," Colletti said. "There's rarely a postseason team that doesn't change along the road."
The team should have new ownership in place by July, of course.
Last week former Dodgers manager Joe Torre announced that he had partnered with L.A. real estate developer Rick Caruso on a bid to buy the team. Mattingly said he has spoken with Torre recently and would love to work with him, but joked, "I don't think I should be pulling for anybody.
"From my standpoint on the people above you, you want to work with baseball people that you trust, that have integrity and treat the game right," Mattingly said. "From that standpoint, I'd love to work with Joe. But does that mean I have anything to do with it? No. I'm like everyone else.
"It's a great franchise. It's the Los Angeles Dodgers. You want someone to come in and just enhance that and really allow it to grow to where it should be."
Mattingly said he wasn't worried about his own job status in light of the impending ownership change.
"I'm trying to get the most out of our team," he said. "That's not going to change for me no matter who owns the ballclub. In that sense I'm not really worried about myself at all."
Elsewhere, Mattingly said that RHP Rubby De La Rosa has looked good in limited action after undergoing Tommy John surgery this summer. The Dodgers hope he can return to throwing bullpen sessions sometime in March and pitching in games by the end of July.
"I feel good. It feels strong," De La Rosa said. "It feels like six months have passed since the operation and it's only been three."Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.