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Dodgers aren't making a big splash with free agents this off-season

Team has not signed top-tier players, but how aggressively it pursues Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka over the next 30 days would show whether it has imposed a spending limit.

December 26, 2013|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Even if the Dodgers don't make a trade for left-hander David Price of Tampa Bay or land Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, they'll likely field the most expensive team in franchise history for the second consecutive season.
Even if the Dodgers don't make a trade for left-hander David Price… (Charles Krupa / Kyodo News…)

This has been a relatively quiet off-season for the Dodgers. They have spent nearly $80 million on free agents, but haven't added any headline acts to their star-studded roster.

That could be a reflection of the Dodgers' necessities, or lack thereof. The three players who signed nine-figure contracts with other teams — Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo — play positions at which the Dodgers are set for the foreseeable future. Or, that could be an indication the formerly free-spending team is close to hitting its financial limit, self-imposed or otherwise.

The Dodgers' dealings with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka over the next 30 days could offer some clarity.

To date, General Manager Ned Colletti hasn't said whether the Dodgers will attempt to sign the 25-year-old, who will be free to start negotiating with all 30 major league teams Thursday morning.

Other high-ranking club officials have downplayed the Dodgers' interest in Tanaka, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average this year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. One said the team wouldn't take a win-at-all-costs approach with him, as it did last off-season with South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. Another predicted Tanaka would sign with the New York Yankees.

Perhaps this is gamesmanship on the part of the Dodgers, who have nothing to gain by advertising their interest in Tanaka.

From a baseball perspective, Tanaka and the Dodgers appear to be a fit. Although the Dodgers have six high-priced starting pitchers, Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are recovering from major operations. Furthermore, only Zack Greinke and Ryu are signed beyond this season.

And unlike the other top-tier pitchers who are available this off-season, Tanaka would cost the Dodgers only money.

To acquire David Price in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers would presumably have to deal their top prospects, which would go against their stated goal of rebuilding their farm system.

They would be presented with a similar conflict if they went after a top free agent such as Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. The Dodgers would forfeit their first-round pick in next year's draft if they sign either.

In other words, if the Dodgers don't sign Tanaka, it will likely be because of financial considerations.

Tanaka is widely expected to sign a deal worth more than $100 million. In addition to that, whichever team signs him would have to pay the Golden Eagles a $20-million release fee.

The Dodgers already have around $210 million in salary commitments for 2014, not counting the estimated $18 million Clayton Kershaw will earn in the arbitration process. In what has been a slow off-season by their standards, the Dodgers have still signed seven free agents, five of whom are guaranteed $10 million or more. They appear as if they will field the most expensive team in franchise history for the second consecutive season.

And it would be understandable if the Dodgers were reluctant to take on another long-term contract. The team has five players signed through the 2017 season or later. Even without Tanaka, that number could rise to seven, as the Dodgers would like to sign Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez to extensions.

Team President Stan Kasten has acknowledged the Dodgers acquired several high-priced players over the last two years in part to win back fans who grew disenchanted when Frank McCourt owned the team. Now that those fans are back, this could be the time for the Dodgers to start scaling back their spending.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @dylanohernandez

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