Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau, left, and Tampa Bay pitcher James… (Ed Zurga, J. Meric / Getty…)
NEW YORK — — With the Dodgers appearing reluctant to meet the Chicago Cubs' asking price for potential two-month rental pitcher Ryan Dempster, they could soon turn their focus to players they could retain beyond this season.
Two players on the Dodgers' radar are first baseman Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins and pitcher James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays, according to people familiar with the team's thinking. The Dodgers aren't actively negotiating deals for Morneau or Shields, one of the people said.
The Dodgers could also explore a trade for Dempster's teammate, pitcher Matt Garza.
Dempster's contract expires at the end of this season, but Morneau's runs through next season, and Shields' includes team options for 2013 and 2014. Garza is under club control for another year and won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2013 season.
Morneau, Shields and Garza play for teams looking to clear salaries.
The American League's most valuable player in 2006, Morneau has about $20 million remaining on his contract, including $14 million next season.
Shields is earning $7 million this season. The club options on his deals are worth $9 million (2013) and $12 million (2014). If the options were declined by the team, he would be owed $1.5 million (2013) or $1 million (2014).
Garza will be eligible for salary arbitration next year and figures to receive a significant raise from the $9.5 million he is earning this season.
Morneau, 31, would address the Dodgers' need for a hitter to complement Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Morneau has been plagued by symptoms related to a 2010 concussion. Though he is hitting a modest .249, he has 11 home runs and 40 runs batted in. He is currently on paternity leave.
In his MVP season, Morneau batted .321 with 34 home runs and 130 RBIs.
Shields, 30, entered his start on Saturday in Seattle with an 8-6 record and 4.39 earned-run average. He led the major leagues with 11 complete games last season but has not thrown one this season.
Garza, 28, is 5-7 with a 4.02 ERA. In what was arguably his best season, Garza was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA with the Rays in 2010. He moved to the Cubs after that year as part of a seven-player deal.
A.J. Ellis rests sore knee
Catcher A.J. Ellis was out of the lineup for consecutive games for the first time this season, as he rested his sore left knee on Saturday.
Ellis underwent an MRI exam in the morning that revealed nothing more than inflammation. He said he would "for sure" play in the Dodgers' series finale against the New York Mets on Sunday.
"It's been a little sore for the last 10 days or so, but that's normal in the season for me," Ellis said.
Backup Matt Treanor once again started in Ellis' absence.