One week to go before the non-waiver trading deadline and Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti is like a kid waiting for his birthday.
"It's a fun time of the year. Because now you get a chance to see who's serious and who isn't," he said.
"We make far more calls than we get. It shows we're active. Shows we're trying to be active. We're buying."
The Dodgers buying?
That concept doesn't mesh with moves that have cut their payroll to about $83 million for current players. Or with owner Frank McCourt and his estranged wife, Jamie, spending nearly $20 million on acrimonious divorce proceedings.
But Colletti said the Dodgers' deficit in the NL West, now six games after their 6-1 loss to the New York Mets on Friday, "is not insurmountable by any means" and he's willing to assume some salary before next Saturday's deadline and the Aug. 31 deadline to trade players who have cleared waivers.
"I'm not inclined to take on a huge salary and unload a bunch of top-end prospects at the same time," he said. "For good or for bad, there's always a balance in every deal."
The balance hasn't been right for the Dodgers to acquire Houston Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, who's guaranteed $25 million over the next season and a half and has a $16-million option for 2012. The Astros want front-line players and top prospects. Colletti won't do that.
The depth in the Dodgers' farm system, he said, is "from the middle down," which worked against them in their pursuit of left-hander Cliff Lee. They didn't have the major league-ready players Seattle wanted and got from Texas in first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers.
Colletti's priorities are adding stability to the back end of the rotation, help for the bullpen, and outfield depth because Manny Ramirez's calf strain and Reed Johnson's back problem have lingered.
Consecutive standout performances by Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda on Wednesday and Thursday, and Vicente Padilla's solid effort in a loss Friday didn't change those needs. If anything, those needs will be more important during the Dodgers' upcoming stretch of 10 straight games against the Padres and Giants and a month in which they'll have only two off days.
The fifth spot in the rotation has been a sinkhole. The Dodgers cobbled things together for a while thanks to John Ely's early success and spot starts from Carlos Monasterios, who is scheduled for his seventh start Saturday. But Ely proved eminently hittable the second and third time around and the Charlie Haeger experiment flopped, leaving the door open.
Last season 12 pitchers started at least one game for the Dodgers. This season nine pitchers have started at least once.
"We're not inclined really to break up the club here, especially the core of it, to acquire somebody," Colletti said. "But I'm more open-minded than I have been in the past on prospects."
Colletti said he needs a boost for a bullpen that was "a great strength" last season but has been strained by George Sherrill's struggles and Ronald Belisario's second stint on the restricted list. Sherrill, so good last season after being acquired from Baltimore, has an ERA of 7.48 in 38 games.
Colletti has a history of deadline-day deals. He made two trades on July 31, 2006, acquiring Greg Maddux and cash from the Chicago Cubs for infielder Cesar Izturis and acquiring infielder-outfielder Julio Lugo from Tampa Bay for infielder Joel Guzman and outfielder Sergio Pedroza. A month later he got utilityman Marlon Anderson from Washington for pitcher Jhonny Nunez.
In 2008 he acquired infielder Casey Blake and $2 million from Cleveland for pitcher Jon Meloan and catcher Carlos Santana, who is considered one of baseball's best prospects. Ramirez fell into his lap on July 31 that year; on Aug. 19 he brought Maddux back for pitchers Eduardo Perez and Michael Watt. Last year's additions were Sherrill on July 30, and Ronnie Belliard on Aug. 30. Padilla was a free-agent signing on Aug. 19.
But Colletti said he's not out to make a change for change's sake.
"I still like this club. I like who they are," he said.
"I don't think the franchise is in a place and time where all the sand is running out of the hourglass. You're always going to have turnover. You're always going to have some change. That's the nature of the business. I think we have a chance to be a steady, solid organization for a while."
Let the buying begin.
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Picking up the pieces
Recent late-season moves by Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti and how the players performed:
2006: Greg Maddux
W-L: 6-3, ERA: 3.30, BB: 14, SO: 36
2008: Casey Blake
G: 58, Avg: .251, HR: 10, RBI: 23, R: 25
2008: Manny Ramirez
G: 53, Avg: .396, HR: 17, RBI: 53, R: 36
2009: George Sherrill
W-L: 1-0, Sv: 1, ERA: 0.65, BB: 11, SO: 22
2009: Vicente Padilla
W-L: 4-0, ERA: 3.20, BB: 12, SO: 38