Lost in the messiness of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership disaster, is another crisis befalling the Job of baseball teams, one centered around roster management.

Prior to signing Juan Rivera and his .701 OPS last season to a one year deal worth $4.5 million (pending a physical), a quick look at the Dodgers’ 2012 payroll commitments revealed only four players with a guaranteed contract: Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley, Juan Uribe and Matt Guerrier. These four players, plus deferred salary commitments to Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones, plus the recently signed Rivera will combine to cost the Dodgers $50.7 million in 2012. That’s more than 42% of their entire $120 million payroll in 2011 taken up by their third and fourth best starting pitchers, the worst regular in their lineup, a barely above replacement player and their, granted most used, but also eighth best reliever by FIP this past season.

While free agency means that the salaries of players such as Hiroki Kuroda, Jonathan Broxton, Casey Blake, Jon Garland, Rod Barajas, Jamey Carroll, Vicente Padilla, Mike MacDougal and Aaron Miles all come off the books, it also means there are a lot of roster spots to fill. Making matters even worse for the Dodgers is their long and expensive list of arbitration eligibles, including (with arbitration estimates via MLBTR):

  • Matt Kemp, CF: $16.3 million
  • Andre Ethier, RF: $10.7 million
  • Clayton Kershaw, SP: $8.4 million
  • James Loney, 1B: $6.5 million
  • Hong-Chih Kuo, RP: $2.5 million
  • Tony Gwynn Jr., OF: $1.1 million

Let’s dare to assume that 1) the Dodgers do the right thing and non tender Loney, Kuo and Gwynn ahead of next year; 2) Los Angeles doesn’t sign Kemp, Ethier and Kershaw to multiple year extensions; and 3) MLBTR’s estimates are accurate. Eight players would end up costing the Dodgers more than $86 million, or 72% of their 2011 payroll.

Further assuming that payroll stays the same, perhaps an over estimation considering that the team will shortly be put up for auction in bankruptcy court, Los Angeles will have $34 million to fill out the rest of their Major League roster throughout the year.

While that type of top heavy ratio may work out well for a spend thrift team with an incredibly deep system like the Tampa Bay Rays, the Dodgers internal options for the lineup get rather murky after shortstop Dee Gordon and first baseman/left fielder Jerry Sands. Names like Justin Sellers and Ivan DeJesus could flush out the infield, while Tim Federowicz and A.J. Ellis are likely to see time behind the plate in 2012.

There are some impressive league minimum salaried options in the bullpen including Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen and even Blake Hawksworth. However, this is a team whose rotation required Dana Eveland to make five starts last season. Removing Kuroda from the team is something that simply can’t be afforded.

And that brings us to an important point. We have to remember that what we’re looking at is the team’s payroll structure as it exists right now. This isn’t the collection of salaries for a team ready to begin the season. There are several gaps that need to be filled from outside the organization, or from the recently departed.

It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the team seeks to bring back more than Rivera from the list of players leaving the team for free agency. And at the top of that list has to be Kuroda, who will be, quite rightly, looking for a raise from the $12 million he made with the Dodgers last season.

Perhaps the most worrisome factor for the Dodgers is that Kemp and Ethier are both set to become free agents after 2012. I can’t help but feel as though this isn’t something easily remedied with ownership in flux, just as a contract extension to Kershaw covering his arbitration years, which would certainly save the team money this season at least, would be a difficult thing to accomplish.

While certainly General Manager Ned Colletti hasn’t been making the most intelligent personnel decisions while he’s been in charge for the last six years, it’s difficult to completely pin blame on him for the current state of the team’s payroll and seeming lack of foresight in shaping it. Outside of Frank McCourt himself, Colletti has been arguably more affected than anyone by the owner’s abuse of power.

The entire mess in Los Angeles can be a little difficult to wrap one’s head around. Thankfully, there’s a Taiwanese animation to explain it.

There is some good news to come out of the Dodgers’ sordid state of affairs. We’ve got a pretty good chance of Emo Juan Uribe getting two more years worth of material.