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10/22/09 2:45 AM EST

Dodgers' nucleus will be back in 2010

Starting rotation likely to be fortified around young stars

PHILADELPHIA -- Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti felt little consolation Wednesday night following his team's defeat in the National League Championship Series, despite the fact that he will bring most of his club back intact for 2010. The wound was still too fresh, the disappointment too intense.

Thursday, though, may be another matter. That's when the work begins anew, trying to craft a team stronger than the one that led the National League in wins in 2009. Colletti, recently signed to a new contract extension, has an excellent core upon which to build his 2010 roster. The bulk of the Dodgers' lineup and bullpen will be back, as will some key starting pitchers.

"We've had some thoughts, but not enough to really know," Colletti said when asked about his club's direction for the winter.

The rotation is the area of greatest uncertainty. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 1 of the NLCS, is back, as is righty Chad Billingsley. Hiroki Kuroda, hampered by injury late in 2009, is under contract. That's three-fifths of a rotation, but it still leaves two openings. And there may or may not be an ace, depending on how quickly and how much Kershaw develops.

The absence of a clear-cut ace stood out when the Dodgers faced the Phillies and Cliff Lee.

"I think they have a clear No. 1 guy," said outfielder Andre Ethier. "That's the biggest thing. No disrespect for our pitchers, the way they've performed, but when you've got a Cliff Lee, a veteran guy who knows how to pitch and has pitched well and is carrying some hardware with him, you've got a great guy to lead off your staff."

No. 1 starters aren't easily acquired, though. They're expensive and rare in free agency, and command a king's ransom in trade. A more reasonable goal is to fill out the back of the rotation. Los Angeles holds expensive options on both Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, and it's tough to see either one being picked up. Randy Wolf, who started Game 1 of the Division Series, is a free agent, and while the Dodgers would be happy to have him back, they might balk at a multiyear commitment.

NL Championship Series
Gm. 1 PHI 8, LAD 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 LAD 2, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 PHI 11, LAD 0 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 PHI 5, LAD 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 10, LAD 4 Wrap Video

So that will likely be the unit that commands the most of Colletti's attention. Some aspects, though, he doesn't need to think that much about. The vast majority of the lineup returns intact: six of the eight regulars are either signed or under team control for '10. Manny Ramirez has a player option that he would seem likely to exercise, leaving only second base as an opening. And many of those players are entering their primes, forming an exciting core of rising stars such as Ethier and Matt Kemp.

"The nucleus is still young," Colletti said. "That's a start. We have a lot of work to do. We played these guys [the Phillies] five games last year and played them this year. It's easy for me to recognize a difference."

Orlando Hudson, signed late in the winter, and midseason acquisition Ronnie Belliard can both become free agents. Belliard appeared to be little more than insurance for Hudson when Los Angeles traded for him, but he started every playoff game for the Dodgers. He hit .351 in 24 regular-season games with the Dodgers, finishing the year with a .277/.325/.451 (batting average/on-base/slugging) line for the NL West champions.

There's no immediate solution in-house at the keystone corner, so if neither Belliard nor Hudson is re-signed, the Dodgers will have to look externally for their next second baseman.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.