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3 Los Angeles Dodgers Having added a touch of Green, L.A. believes it has chased away the blues

March 27, 2000
March 27, 2000

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March 27, 2000

Baseball Preview 2000

3 Los Angeles Dodgers Having added a touch of Green, L.A. believes it has chased away the blues

Gary Sheffield says the mood in the Dodgers' clubhouse last
season was the worst he has experienced in his 12-year career.
At least a half-dozen Los Angeles players had squabbles with
manager Davey Johnson. "I could see Davey wasn't enjoying the
game last year," Sheffield says. "He was making moves based on
what guys were going to feel and how they were going to react."

This is an article from the March 27, 2000 issue Original Layout

But Sheffield thinks a new calm is about to prevail in L.A. His
first clue came in January--after an off-season filled with
trades and free-agent signings by the Dodgers--when he hosted
Johnson at a party in St. Petersburg celebrating Gary's and wife
DeLeon's recent marriage. "It was like this big sense of
relief," Gary says. "Davey was dancing so much, I think he was
embarrassing his wife. He was doing Elvis on the dance floor,
kicking his legs out."

Johnson agrees that his spirits have improved, and he thinks
that the Dodgers' will follow suit. "We have options now," he
says. "Last year we didn't. Last year, it was almost like you
just had to stick your chin out and take it."

Much has been made of November's trade of Raul Mondesi to the
Blue Jays for $84 million rightfielder Shawn Green, who should
fill L.A.'s need for lefthanded power. The Dodgers may benefit
even more from their subsequent purgings of second baseman Eric
Young and righthander Ismael Valdes, who were traded to the Cubs
for reliever Terry Adams and two minor league pitchers. Los
Angeles was hammered for the apparent one-sidedness of the deal,
but Young, like Mondesi, was a clubhouse troublemaker. Though
Sheffield and Eric Karros each hit 34 home runs last year, 38 of
them came with no one on base. L.A. is counting on 37-year-old
Devon White to be a more productive leadoff man, but White hit
just .268 last year, has never been a good on-base percentage
guy and hasn't broken the 22-stolen base or 84-run mark since
1993.

As for Valdes, he had a well-established habit of losing the
close ones--the Dodgers were 2-13 in the one-run games he
started last year. Of the 33 active starting pitchers in the
major leagues with 1,000 or more innings and an ERA lower than
4.00, Valdes ranks last in victories and 25th in winning
percentage (61-54, .530).

With 24-year-old Alex Cora expected to beat out Jose Vizcaino
and Juan Castro at shortstop, the Los Angeles infield is deep
enough to permit Johnson to exercise some options. The bullpen
has been upgraded with three setup men who have closer's
experience: Adams, Gregg Olson and Mike Fetters. They should
form a better bridge to Jeff Shaw, whose 124 saves over the last
three seasons are second in the National League only to Trevor
Hoffman's 130. "This year we've given Davey a lot of choices,"
says general manager Kevin Malone.

But the Dodgers haven't gotten to the heart of the problem. In
recent years L.A. has been a preseason favorite and a postseason
no-show. The Dodgers haven't won a playoff game since 1988--when
Orel Hershiser was SI's Sportsman of the Year after ending the
season by pitching a record 59 consecutive scoreless innings.
After having been away for five years, the free agent Hershiser
has returned like the ghost of greatness past to find that the
O'Malleys had sold the club to television people, that L.A. was
on its third manager in three years (whereas Walter Alston and
Tommy Lasorda had managed for the previous 42) and that there
was talk of the Dodgers abandoning Vero Beach, their spring
training site since '48, for...Las Vegas.

Rather than be horrified, Hershiser suggests that this period of
transition was almost inevitable. "In some ways the Dodgers
organization fell slightly behind others in baseball," he says.
"I wouldn't automatically take the word change as a negative."

One place where change would almost certainly be a positive is
the starting rotation. Beyond stopper Kevin Brown, this group
remains downright unpredictable. The one promising new face is
rookie Eric Gagne, who takes over for Valdes. The Dodgers can
only hope that Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort build on their
improvements in the second half of last year, when they went a
combined 14-9, 3.79. Carlos Perez signed a three-year deal worth
$15.5 million before last season, started off 2-10 with a 7.43
ERA and was demoted to Triple A Albuquerque. If he doesn't pan
out, the 41-year-old Hershiser will take his place.

The most important change, however, would be in attitude, and
Sheffield thinks that will happen. "When you have a team as
talented as ours, you have to learn how to do things as a unit,"
he says. "Probably half of our lineup had bad years last year.
If we work together, that can change."

--I.T.

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO POWER PLAY Green, the biggest pickup in a busy off-season, gives the Dodgers just what they need: a big lefthanded bat in the heart of the order.COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

AROUND THE HORN

OFFENSE
[3 STARS]
DEFENSE
[2 STARS]
STARTING PITCHING
[3 STARS]
BULLPEN
[2 STARS]
MANAGER
[3 1/2 STARS]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (NL rank)

Batting average .266 (10)
Runs scored 793 (11)
Home runs 187 (8)

1999 record: 77-85 (third in NL West)

Opponents' batting average .258 (5)
ERA 4.45 (7)
Fielding percentage .978 (13)

next up...

Manager Davey Johnson calls 24-year-old Eric Gagne "the best
French-speaking pitcher I've ever seen." The Dodgers found Gagne
(pronounced gahn-YAY) in high school in Montreal, where he grew
up playing baseball and hockey. "I was a goon, just protecting
the better players," he says of his on-ice persona. "I've always
been a better baseball player." L.A. signed Gagne in 1995 as a
19-year-old undrafted free agent and then waited for him to
recover from Tommy John elbow surgery two years later. He
arrived at spring training in '99 with prescription goggles, a
vestige of his hockey days. "I couldn't wear contacts anymore
because of all the scratches in my eyes," he says. Over the past
two years Gagne is 22-12 with a 3.03 ERA and 349 strikeouts in
3381/3 innings, including five impressive starts (1-1, 2.10)
with the Dodgers last season. Warning to hitters: Think twice
before charging him on the mound, eh?

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Davey Johnson (second season with Los Angeles)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Devon White S-R 166 .268 14 68 19
2B Mark Grudzielanek R 179 .326 7 46 6
LF Gary Sheffield R 48 .301 34 101 11
RF Shawn Green[1] L 20 .309 42 123 20
1B Eric Karros R 46 .304 34 112 8
C Todd Hundley S-R 199 .207 24 55 3
3B Adrian Beltre R 143 .275 15 67 18
SS Alex Cora* L-R 320 .308 4 37 9
OF Todd Hollandsworth L 316 .284 9 32 5

BENCH

OF F.P. Santangelo[1] S-R 328 .260 3 26 12
IF Jose Vizcaino S-R 350 .252 1 29 2
C Chad Kreuter[1] S-R 363 .225 5 35 0
IF Dave Hansen L-R 409 .252 2 17 0

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Kevin Brown 10 18 9 7.2 1.07 3.00
RH Chan Ho Park 97 13 11 5.9 1.58 5.23
RH Darren Dreifort 81 13 13 6.1 1.42 4.79
RH Eric Gagne (R) 127 1 1 6.0 1.10 2.10
LH Carlos Perez 263 2 10 5.3 1.73 7.43

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Jeff Shaw 19 2 4 34 1.16 2.78
RH Gregg Olson[1] 216 9 4 14 1.30 3.71
RH Terry Adams[1] 259 6 3 13 1.35 4.02
LH Onan Masaoka 283 2 4 1 1.53 4.32
RH Mike Fetters[1] 330 1 0 0 1.84 5.81
RH Orel Hershiser[1] 148 13 12 0 1.41 4.58

[1] New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Dodgers

"The Dodgers should be improved over last year. They may even
compete for the wild card. But some things are definitely
missing.... Despite some improvement, Todd Hundley still can't
throw. I saw the Cardinals steal four bases on him in a spring
training game, and his throws weren't even close. His release is
2.1 to 2.2 seconds. Unless it's below two seconds, a catcher's
not doing well.... Alex Cora is an above-average defensive
shortstop, but I've seen teams throw so-so fastballs right by
him. He'll be overmatched at the plate.... Third baseman Adrian
Beltre is a coming star. He can turn a fastball around better
than any young guy I've seen. He still tries to pull everything,
but he'll learn.... Devon White is a problem in centerfield. He
doesn't dive for balls or come to play every day. When he was
younger, he could outrun everything, and he had a pretty quick
bat. Now he's lazy, and it shows.... Carlos Perez doesn't throw
as hard as he used to. His changeup used to have some down
action, but no more. If he was an inexpensive free agent, I
don't know if I'd advise a team to take him."