The Dodgers and Angels are in pursuit of an All-Star third baseman, one who could fill a long-standing vacancy for an elite power hitter.
Not Alex Rodriguez. That could come later. Miguel Cabrera could come sooner, forcing the Dodgers and Angels to consider whether to trade three top youngsters for Cabrera or keep prospects for the chance to spend perhaps 10 times as much on Rodriguez.
The Florida Marlins jolted this week's meeting of general managers in Orlando, Fla., putting Cabrera on the trading block and sending teams in search of a third baseman scrambling to consider a powerful alternative to Rodriguez. The Dodgers, Angels, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants are expected to consider trading for Cabrera.
The price would be steep. The Marlins are believed to covet high-quality, low-cost talent at pitcher, third base, catcher and center field. They hope to trade Cabrera for three players, with at least two able to contribute at the major league level next season, a baseball source said.
The Dodgers could be asked for outfielder Matt Kemp, third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Chad Billingsley or top pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw, although one official familiar with the Dodgers' thinking said the team probably would consider that price "too much." The Angels could be asked for their top two prospects -- third baseman Brandon Wood and pitcher Nick Adenhart -- and one of their two catchers, Mike Napoli or Jeff Mathis.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Marlins were believed to be determining which teams would be interested, the step preceding submission of specific trade proposals.
On the Rodriguez front, Angels General Manager Tony Reagins has confirmed the Angels' interest in Rodriguez and has met briefly with his agent, Scott Boras, in Orlando. Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said he has not met with Boras in Orlando.
"The meetings have been very introductory," Reagins said. "We did talk about Alex, but in very general terms."
The Dodgers called the Marlins about Cabrera regularly last season, and they were told every time the Marlins had no interest in trading him.
Colletti repeatedly warned last season that he would not trade his best young players for a player one year -- or less -- from free agency. Cabrera must wait another two years before free agency
"It changes the dynamic if you have a player with you for a while," Colletti said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Colletti spoke in general terms and would not discuss Cabrera specifically.
Reagins would not discuss Cabrera in particular, but he said the Angels have talked to several teams about power hitters, not necessarily third basemen.
"We're not limited to third base," he said.
Cabrera is 24, a four-time All-Star, yet just five months older than LaRoche and three weeks younger than Mathis. He played left field on the Marlins' 2003 World Series championship team and right field the next year, then moved back to his original position of third base.
He hit .320 with 34 home runs and 119 runs batted in last season, driving in at least 110 runs for the fourth consecutive season. His career statistics at his age are most comparable to Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey and Frank Robinson, according to baseball-reference.com.
But Cabrera stands to make about $11 million in arbitration next season, a prohibitive figure for the cost-conscious Marlins, and weight and conditioning concerns could force teams to move him to first base -- or, in the case of an American League team, to designated hitter.
Rodriguez is believed to be asking $300 million over 10 years. The financial commitment to Cabrera would be limited to about $25 million over two years.
That could leave the Dodgers plenty of dollars to sign a free-agent center fielder, with Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Aaron Rowand and Japan's Kosuke Fukudome among candidates of interest, and address pitching depth, perhaps with Japanese right-handers Hiroki Kuroda or Masahide Kobayashi.
"That's an obvious consideration," Colletti said. "It's one of the things we always have to gauge."
The Dodgers' interest in third basemen appears to leave six-time All-Star Nomar Garciaparra in limbo. The Dodgers owe him $8.5 million next season, after he hit .283 with seven home runs last season.
Colletti declined to discuss the Dodgers' plans for Garciaparra.
"We're looking to improve the club any way we can," Colletti said. "We'll be open-minded. We'll go from there."
As expected, Angels center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. met with representatives of the commissioner's office to discuss allegations he ordered human growth hormone. An MLB spokesman confirmed the meeting took place but declined to comment further. Scott Leventhal, the agent for Matthews, did not return a call for comment.