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And so the curtain has closed on what was a spectacular Dodgers season. Normally, LAist is not one to celebrate teams that come up short, but considering what the Dodgers had been through and what was expected of this crew, we can only smile at the progress the organization made in 2004. After failing to win a playoff game for 16 years, Lima Time took that monkey off our backs. And after nearly blowing a comfortable September lead, the Dodgers beat the Giants of all teams to reach the postseason for the first time since 1996 and win the NL for the first time in a 162-Game season since 1988.

For the first time in at least six years, Dodger fans can feel great about their team's leadership from the manager to the general manager, and for now, we'll say the owner.

The late-season miracles for the Dodgers, even helped LAist win its first bet with SFist, and make Shane eat crow, in a pseudo glorification column of the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles. It may have read more like a backhanded compliment, but we'll be the ones enjoying rice-a-roni soon enough... the San Francisco Treat. Ding, Ding.

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But now our thoughts turn to next season.

It's obvious now that the Dodgers need an extreme makeover of their pitching staff. It's going to be difficult for the Dodgers to get a lineup which approaches the dominance of the Cardinals 1-7, but there is no reason for a Dodger Stadium team to have a rotation in tatters.

Brad Penny coming back healthy will be a good start. But Odalis Perez and Jeff Weaver looked anything but composed in the postseason. Perez is a free agent, and Paul DePodesta will have to figure out how much to pay a talented pitcher who often looks brilliant, but has bouts with immaturity and has openly said at times he wants to join the Red Sox.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to pick up part of Jeff Weaver's $9 million salary in a trade, it appears Weaver will remain in LA for one final season. He was a quality workhorse in 2004 though, so as a back-of-the-rotation starter, the Dodgers could certainly do worse. We just don't want him starting Game 2 anytime soon.

Hideo Nomo and his $9 milion salary come off the books. Perhaps he could come back as an NRI, but Nomo has plenty of his own issues to sort out. Kazuhisa Ishii looks as good as gone. His salary isn't outrageous, and perhaps the Dodgers could get decent value for him in a trade with a team simply looking to rent a one-year arm. We hope next year is the year Edwin Jackson starts living up to the hype. Jose Lima has proven he belongs.

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The fact of the matter is that Paul DePodesta has shown creativity in his time as GM that he can be creative, and the Dodgers will have to exhaust their creative options to bring in another frontline starting pitcher which they so desperately need.

This offseason will also be crucial for the Dodgers and owner Frank McCourt to see just how much he is willing to spend. Scott Boras has been salivating over the beginning of contract talks for Adrian Beltre all offseason, and the fight will soon begin to determine whether Beltre will receive Manny Ramirez money, Vladimir Guerrero money, or Eric Chavez money. It should be noted that all of those players had more than one spectacular season before landing huge deals. But none of them were as young as Beltre when they became free agents.

Also from a payroll standpoint, it's about time the Dodgers give Eric Gagne a long-term extension after pissing him off for two straight years by using Kim Ng to beat him in arbitration. Gagne is in an elite class as a reliever and in many ways has become the face of this team. They should treat him as such.

Fortunately, Todd Hundley and Paul Shuey have expiring contracts which will give LA $10 million in payroll flexibility. But we're still counting down the 385 days until Darren Dreifort comes off the books.

It looks like Jayson Werth has cemented a spot for himself in the lineup for next season. It would be great if DePodesta and Jim Tracy could convince him to play catcher again, but if that's not possible, Werth in right or left field is just fine. Milton Bradley should absolutely move back to center field, as he covers far more range than Steve Finley. It will be interesting to see what the Dodgers do with Finley. LAist believes he could probably have another good offensive season at 40 in this day and age of players continuing solid performances into their geriatric years. Yet, Finley must realize that he's more of an asset to the Dodgers in right field than in center. And if he wants too much money, or it can't be done, then perhaps Shawn Green could move back to right and Hee Seop Choi could be cleared to play first base.

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The Hee Seop Choi dilemma is a big one that will need to be resolved soon. He's got all of the talent in the world, but aside from the occasional flash of power, he's been more Hee Flop Choi in his career. And what should the Dodgers do with Shawn Green? He's entering the final year of his contract, and he could only command value in a trade if the Dodgers picked up part a large portion of his salary. But unless George Steinbrenner acts his well-known desire to acquire Green, we can't envision a reasonable scenario for the Dodgers to play without Green in 2005.

Don't forget that James Loney is on the horizon and some project him to be a star.

In 2005, the Dodgers also desperately need a catcher. And it would be great if DePodesta could find a way to upgrade over Alex Cora at second base.

This will be a fascinating offseason indeed for LA, but for now we're proud of how the Dodgers overcame the hump in 2004. For future reference though, this is the last time for a while that we'll satisfied with a first round playoff exit.