Reports: Dodgers to re-sign J.P. Howell for two years, $11.25 million, plus option.

J.P. HowellJ.P. Howell will return to the Dodgers for at least two years, according to multiple reports Monday, with the two sides compromising on a third-year option that would pay Howell more than any left-handed reliever on the market this year.

The contract reportedly guarantees Howell $11.25 million through 2015. The third-year option, worth $6.25 million, vests if he makes 120 appearances over the next two seasons. It’s a realistic benchmark for Howell, who appeared in 67 games in 2013, going 4-1 with a 2.18 earned-run average.

In total, the 30-year-old has the potential to earn $17.5 million over the life of the contract – $1 million more than the Rockies gave lefty specialist Boone Logan over the next three years.

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Daily Distractions: The market has been set for J.P. Howell, but will the Dodgers go along?

J.P. Howell

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell went 4-1 with a 2.18 earned-run average in 67 games for the Dodgers in 2013. (Getty Images)

For a left-handed set-up man like J.P. Howell the market has pretty much been set. Right?

Javier Lopez got three years and $13 million from the San Francisco Giants.

On Friday, Boone Logan got three years and $16.5 million from the Colorado Rockies.

Howell was just a nudge better than those two in 2013 while doing essentially the same task, retiring left-handed batters in close games before the ninth inning. He’s 30; Logan is 29 and Lopez is 36. If the market trend continues, Howell can probably make a good case to earn a little more money than Logan. Say, three years and $18 million.

The Dodgers don’t necessarily see it that way.

They have one left-handed specialist in Paco Rodriguez. Another, Scott Elbert, could be ready to join the team at midseason. Right-hander Carlos Marmol has had good historical success against lefties as well, though the Dodgers haven’t had much communication with him since the off-season began.

Would they like Howell back? Sure. They’ve been more talkative with Howell’s camp than perhaps any left-handed reliever to this point. But general manager Ned Colletti suggested Saturday he isn’t as desperate for help in that area as the Giants and Rockies were when they signed Lopez and Logan, respectively.

“You have to make the right decisions despite sometimes what other teams were doing,” Colletti said, speaking generally about the market for left-handed relievers. “Some teams do it because they don’t have anybody else. It’s something done out of desperation. I get that. We’ve had to do it too from time to time. But (Howell) is another guy we’ve had a lot of conversations with. We’re still trying to get him signed.

“Whether we do or not, we’ll always figure it out. We might not figure it out on Dec. 14.”

After reportedly signing Juan Uribe on Saturday, bolstering the bullpen is Colletti’s top task. The market seems to be pointing in one direction for Howell, but the Dodgers might ultimately decide to go a different direction.

Some bullet points for a Monday morning:
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Report: Mark Ellis signs with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mark Ellis

Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis dives for a ground ball in a June game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He reportedly agreed to a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to sign Mark Ellis, pending a physical.

Ellis started 206 games for the Dodgers over the last two seasons, batting .264/.328/.357 and finishing in the top five in the National League in fielding percentage at second base both years.

In 2013, Ellis batted .270/.323/.351 with six home runs and 48 RBIs in 126 games. He batted .250 (10 for 40) in the playoffs.

Ellis’ departure came as little surprise after the Dodgers signed free agent infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract in October. Guerrero might not be ready to be the Dodgers’ everyday second baseman at the beginning of next season, but such a long-term commitment left little room for Ellis in the Dodgers’ infield the next four years — particularly after the Dodgers locked up third baseman Juan Uribe on Saturday.

Though Ellis’ offense can be replaced, the Dodgers will undoubtedly miss his defense. Ellis ranks fourth all-time in UZR/150 among major-league second baseman who have played at least 4,000 innings. He is second all-time in total defensive runs saved and UZR.

Ellis’ humble persona also played well in a full clubhouse of superstars.

Since the Dodgers have no real insurance if Guerrero falters, a veteran with major-league experience at second base becomes high on their off-season wish list. Brendan Harris, who signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training Nov. 18, could also figure into the major-league team’s plans.

Report: Juan Uribe returning to the Dodgers on a two-year contract.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe was the Dodgers’ key remaining free agent. (Associated Press photo)

The Dodgers and third baseman Juan Uribe have reached agreement on a two-year contract, according to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal. Terms of the contract haven’t been reported.

Uribe was the Dodgers’ primary target to fill the position after a productive 2013 season. He batted .278/.331/.438 with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, and was a finalist for the National League Gold Glove Award at third base. Uribe has been praised by teammates and coaches for his character and leadership during the past three seasons in Los Angeles, even in the midst of his colossal struggles in 2011 and 2012.

But he’d rejected multiple contract offers since the season ended, forcing general manager Ned Colletti to consider his alternatives in a weak free agent crop. There weren’t many.

“We may have to mix and match a little bit,” Colletti said Saturday morning at a charity event in South Los Angeles.

Should Uribe’s new contract become official, the Dodgers may have their 2014 Opening Day infield in place by mid-December: Uribe at third base, Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, Adrian Gonzalez at first base and rookie Alexander Guerrero — if he’s ready — at second.

The Dodgers still would like to add to their bullpen, particularly a left-hander and a long reliever, and possibly a starting pitcher as insurance for pitchers Chad Billinsgley and Josh Beckett. Both are attempting to return from season-ending surgeries.

But Uribe was the Dodgers’ key remaining in-house free agent and, potentially, their most expensive target still on the market.

As Juan Uribe remains a free agent, Ned Colletti is expanding Dodgers’ infield options.

Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers haven’t talked to Hanley Ramirez about being their starting third baseman in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti hasn’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Juan Uribe. But now that Uribe has rejected multiple contract offers, Colletti sounded more open to other alternatives Saturday than he has at any point this off-season.

“We’ve been in contact with Juan. Been in contact with a handful of agents for players who can play the infield,” Colletti said. “Really our emphasis is on infielders and relief pitching right now.”
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Daily Distractions: Predicting the Dodgers’ agenda for the Winter Meetings.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is the Dodgers’ first choice to play third base in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Tuesday was such a busy day for free agent signings and trades around baseball, one website asked what many major league beat writers were probably thinking: “Who needs the Winter Meetings”?

For the Dodgers at least, next week could be a productive one. The Brian Wilson deal isn’t official yet, despite reports that he passed his physical. Assuming that contract has been signed by the time Dodgers officials land in Orlando, Florida, here’s what will top the to-do list:

1. A third baseman. General manager Ned Colletti is still hoping to bring back Juan Uribe, who is reportedly seeking a three-year contract. If the Dodgers are willing to go to a third year, there must still be a gap in dollar figures being exchanged by the two sides. Maybe they can overcome their differences in a week. Maybe not. If the Dodgers aren’t ready to commit to Hanley Ramirez as their third baseman for 2014, they might be best suited to resolve the position via trade if Uribe signs elsewhere. The free-agent crop at third base is really that thin.

2. A left-handed reliever. The Dodgers have a nice stable of right-handers among Kenley Jansen, Wilson, Chris Withrow, Brandon League and Jose Dominguez. Other than Paco Rodriguez, who petered out around the time of his 66th appearance in 2013, they don’t have a single established lefty reliever who will be healthy to start next season. (Scott Elbert underwent Tommy John surgery in June.) Re-signing J.P. Howell seems like the logical move, even if he is seeking a three-year contract. At age 30, Howell is a less risky investment than, say, Randy Choate, who was 37 when the Dodgers wouldn’t give him a three-year contract at this time last year. Javier Lopez raised the market value by signing a 3-year, $13 million deal to stay in San Francisco and Howell’s numbers are comparable. If the Dodgers can’t re-sign Howell, they may turn to a veteran such as Scott Downs on a shorter-term deal.

3. A bench. After losing Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto as free agents, the Dodgers lost arguably the two most proven quantities on their bench. Backup catcher Tim Federowicz, first baseman/outfielder Scott Van Slyke, outfielder Mike Baxter and whatever-he’s-playing-these-days Dee Gordon are all in line for bench jobs. The Dodgers would like to bring in another infielder as insurance if Alexander Guerrero isn’t ready to be the everyday second baseman. They could also shake up the equation by accepting trade offer for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
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Report: Chicago White Sox sign former Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario for one year, $3 million.

Ronald BelisarioAccording to the Chicago Tribune, Ronald Belisario is leaving Los Angeles to sign a one-year, $3 million contract with the White Sox.

Belisario, who is eligible for arbitration, was not tendered before the 9 p.m. Monday deadline. The right-hander led the Dodgers in appearances in 2013, posting a 3.97 earned-run average in 77 games.

Earlier Thursday, the Dodgers agreed to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Brian Wilson.

The Tribune reported that Belisario’s contract will become official once he passes a physical.

Reports: Brian Wilson, Dodgers agree on one-year contract.

Brian Wilson and the Dodgers have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, according to multiple reports Thursday.

Wilson will receive $10 million to set up closer Kenley Jansen in 2014, with a player option for 2015 that would be worth $9 and $10 million, depending on how many appearances he makes next season.

Daily Distractions: Circling back to David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw, Don Mattingly.

Dan Haren

Dan Haren is the Dodgers’ biggest off-season signing so far. (Associated Press photo)

Six weeks ago, when the postseason became the off-season, the clamor among Dodgers fans was for David Price, Masahiro Tanaka and a Clayton Kershaw contract extension.

The headline-makers so far: Dan Haren, Ronald Belisario (for being non-tendered) and Lorenzo Bundy.

OK, so the off-season has progressed relatively slowly for the Dodgers. They have a chance to change the narrative at the Winter Meetings beginning Monday. In the meantime, we suddenly have a chance to circle back to the Price, Tanaka and Kershaw storylines.

Price has a number of suitors, with the Seattle Mariners emerging as the most aggressive, according to multiple reports. A bidding war waged in prospects simply wouldn’t favor the Dodgers over the Mariners.

As for Tanaka, he could be liberated from his contract in Japan soon. MLB and NPB will reportedly have a conference call today with a formal offer for a new Posting System on the table. That’s the closest thing to a resolution to the Posting System stalemate in weeks. Whether or not the new system favors or works against the Dodgers lies in the yet-to-be reported details.

Given many chances, Kershaw has said a very little about his future with the Dodgers over the last few weeks. He is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.

Kershaw told Yahoo! Sports’ Graham Bensinger that “I’m there next year no matter what, I’m going to be in L.A. … then after that I really don’t know what’s going to happen.” Bensinger asked Kershaw if he had a gut feeling about what might happen. “I don’t,” Kershaw said. “We’ll just see.”

Those sentiments are in line with his comments from three weeks ago, when Kershaw won the National League Cy Young Award. At the time, Kershaw said he and the Dodgers haven’t talked about a contract extension since the season ended. If that’s changed, the talks haven’t nudged Kershaw toward a “gut feeling” either way. More likely, they haven’t talked. So this story might not be wrapped up anytime soon.

Some bullet points for a Day of the Ninja:
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Daily Distractions: How Ricky Nolasco’s departure might have helped the Dodgers.

Ricky Nolasco

Ricky Nolasco signed a four-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. (Associated Press photo)

When the Chicago Cubs signed former Dodgers pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million contract in January, it set a precedent for comparable pitchers that is still being used to this day.

Take last week, when Ricky Nolasco was negotiating with the Minnesota Twins. Writes the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Having mentioned from the start the four-year, $52 million deal Edwin Jackson signed last winter with the Cubs, [Nolasco's agent Matt] Sosnick had established the benchmark.

“[Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony] said, ‘I’m not saying the fourth year can’t get done. I’m just saying we’re not prepared to do it right now,’ ” Sosnick said. “They then came back and said, ‘We know you’re looking for an Edwin Jackson deal. Is there much of a discount?’ We said no.”

More back and forth ensued, all of it cordial and professional. The Twins eventually came up to four years at $12 million per season.

Nolasco was one of the better starting pitchers in this year’s free agent crop. The Dodgers dipped their toe into the market to sign Dan Haren last week, and general manager Ned Colletti didn’t rule out adding another starting pitcher. But the Dodgers, with two spots for Haren, Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett as it stands now, aren’t desparate. Colletti is loathe to sign any player who would cost a 2014 first-round draft pick — Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana fall into that category — and they don’t need an ace. They might make an exception for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, but Nolasco and Jackson won’t be used as comparables if and when Tanaka begins negotiating with MLB teams. That reportedly won’t happen until January.

The Arizona Diamondbacks need an ace. Their general manager, Kevin Towers, isn’t opposed to sacrificing a draft pick to sign one. The San Diego Padres need a starter too, but they’re more likely to go the trade route — particularly after Nolasco’s contract might have pushed some eligible free-agent starters out of their price range. If you’re the Dodgers, this is all good news.

Some bullet points for a Wednesday afternoon:

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