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1 Los Angeles Dodgers

April 03, 2006
April 03, 2006

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April 3, 2006

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1 Los Angeles Dodgers

A big bounce back to the top after the injury-filled calamity of '05

All winter DanysBaez had braced for the phone call telling him that he'd been traded by theDevil Rays, for whom he had played two seasons and developed into an All-Starcloser. Long rumored to be heading to the Mets, Baez was stunned to hear inJanuary that he had been acquired by the Dodgers in a four-team deal. "Iwas shocked, a little upset," says Baez, who knew he would have to be thesetup man in Los Angeles for closer Eric Gagne. "To go back to [setting up]after working so hard to prove I could be a closer is not easy, but I think theDodgers thought they needed me badly. And now I'm going to do everything I canto help them win."

This is an article from the April 3, 2006 issue Original Layout

Baez, who had 41saves for Tampa Bay last season, may not be finishing games at Chavez Ravinethis summer, but he will nevertheless find himself in a pivotal role. TheDodgers hope he can upgrade a staff (L.A. ranked 12th in the NL with a 4.38ERA) that was a big reason they went from a postseason berth in 2004 to theirworst finish since 1992 a year later. The staff's woes were exacerbated by theabsence of Gagne, the '03 NL Cy Young winner, who appeared in only 14 gamesbecause of injuries before getting shut down for the season in June followingelbow surgery. Baez and a full-strength Gagne give the Dodgers the bestlate-inning bullpen duo in the league; Baez also provides much-neededninth-inning insurance should Gagne falter or suffer another injury.

"Health is atop concern for this team," says new general manager Ned Colletti, who paida steep price for Baez and righthanded reliever Lance Carter, trading prizedpitching prospects Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to Tampa Bay."Everyone's feeling good right now, but so many of our key players--Gagne,J.D. Drew, Brad Penny--have had [health] issues."

Players went onthe disabled list so frequently last season that L.A. used 20 rookies, the mostin the majors, and only second baseman Jeff Kent made enough plate appearancesto qualify for the batting title. The team, though, is encouraged by Gagne'srecovery; in camp he threw his entire arsenal of pitches and hit the mid-90s onthe radar gun. But new manager Grady Little will keep the three-time All-Staron a short leash: He's already decided that Gagne, who in September '04 wenttwo innings four times as the Dodgers were chasing a pennant, will berestricted to the ninth inning.

Baez is asimilarly hard thrower who relies primarily on a 96-mph fastball. Even if heplays second fiddle to Gagne this year, Baez may find himself getting the finalout soon enough: Gagne is in the final season of a two-year, $19 million deal."Grady Little and I sat down with Danys [early in spring training], andimmediately he told us he would accept whatever role he was given," saysColletti. "Obviously, ideally he'd be a closer, but he also just wants todo what's best for the club."

To improve itslineup, Los Angeles made a splash in the off-season with the signing offree-agent shortstop and leadoff man Rafael Furcal (who swiped 46 bases lastyear; the Dodgers had 58 total). But its most intriguing move was signing NomarGarciaparra to a one-year, $6 million deal. The former Red Sox and Cubsshortstop, who hasn't had an injury-free season since '03, is slotted to playfirst base. "So far he looks fine," says Colletti. "Offensivelythere's no question he can still produce. He's only 32. He should be in theprime of his career."

Garciaparra isreunited with Little, the folksy former Boston skipper who is most famous forleaving in Pedro Martinez too long in a 2003 ALCS Game 7 loss to the Yankees."This game has a way of humbling," says Little, who was let go by theRed Sox after that season. "When I went to spring training in 2003, theypicked me up at the airport in a limousine. In 2004 when I went to camp withthe Cubs [as a minor league roving instructor], the travel secretary told me Icould go to Budget and pick up my Ford Focus."

Having moved onagain, Little finds himself in an enviable situation. The NL West is baseball'sworst division, so as long as his new charges stay healthy, he should be on hisway back to the postseason.

IN FACT
Dodger Stadium is regarded as a haven for pitchers, but the last L.A. starterto win more than 16 games was Chan Ho Park (18 in 2000). The last to win 20 wasRamon Martinez in 1990.

CONSIDER THIS
a modest proposal

Overall theDodgers take a stable lineup into the season, but leftfield, where 31-year-oldjourneyman Jose Cruz is the starter, is a weak spot. With a bullpen full ofpower arms--including veterans Eric Gagne and Danys Baez, plus youngstersYhency Brazoban, 25; Jonathan Broxton, 21; and Hong-Chih Kuo (right), 24--L.A.could put together an attractive package and trade for a short-term upgrade inleft, such as the Padres' Ryan Klesko or the Blue Jays' Frank Catalanotto. Orit could include catcher Russell Martin, 23, a converted third baseman, in abigger deal for a frontline player such as the Phillies' Bobby Abreu.

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2005 statistics

2005 RECORD71-91
fourth in NL West

MANAGER
Grady Little
first season with Los Angeles

BATTINGORDER

SS Furcal
CF Lofton
RF Drew
2B Kent
1B Garciaparra
3B Mueller
LF Cruz
C Navarro

KENNY LOFTON[New acquisition]
B-T L
PVR 180
BA .335
HR 2
RBI 36
SB 22

JOSE CRUZ
B-T S-R
PVR 186
BA .251
HR 18
RBI 50
SB 0

RAFAEL FURCAL[New acquisition]
B-T S-R
PVR 35
BA .284
HR 12
RBI 58
SB 46

BILL MUELLER
B-T S-R
PVR 211
BA .295
HR 10
RBI 62
SB 0

DIONERNAVARRO
B-T S-R
PVR 278
BA .273
HR 3
RBI 14
SB 0

NOMARGARCIAPARRA [New acquisition]
B-T R
PVR 133
BA .283
HR 9
RBI 30
SB 0

JEFF KENT
B-T R
PVR 17
BA .289
HR 29
RBI 105
SB 6

J.D. DREW
B-T L-R
PVR 101
BA .286
HR 15
RBI 36
SB 1

BENCH

RICKY LEDEE
B-T L
PVR 288
BA .278
HR 7
RBI 39
SB 0

OLMEDO SAENZ
B-T R
PVR 260
BA .263
HR 15
RBI 63
SB 0

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
ROTATION

PITCHERPVRWLKWHIPERA
RHDerek Lowe8612151461.253.61
RHBrad Penny107791221.293.90
LHOdalis Perez9078741.264.56
RHJae Weong Seo [New acquisition]4282591.112.59
RHBrett Tomko [New acquisition]1678151141.374.48


[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
BULLPEN

PITCHERPVRWLSVWHIPERA
RHEric Gagne411080.982.70
RHDanys Baez [New acquisition]16454411.332.86
RHYhency Brazoban252410211.405.33



New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 59)

ON DECK
coming to a ballpark near you this summer...

The top pitcherin the Dodgers' farm system for the past two seasons, 21-year-old righthanderChad Billingsley has yet to throw a pitch above Double A, but, says managerGrady Little, "I wouldn't be surprised if he was a factor on this ball clubsometime in 2006." The team's first-round pick in the '03 draft,Billingsley, whose fastball reaches 97 mph, had 162 strikeouts in 146 inningslast year at Double A Jacksonville.

PHOTOTOM SZCZERBOWSKI-US PRESSWIRE NO. 2WITH A BULLET
The hard-throwing Baez accepts his setup role, but he's ready and willing toclose if Gagne falters.
TWO PHOTOSCHUCK SOLOMON (KUO); MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES (BILLINGSLEY)ILLUSTRATION