MANAGER GRADYLITTLE second season with Dodgers
AS GENERALMANAGER Ned Colletti wrapped up negotiations with agent Arn Tellem in Novemberto keep first baseman Nomar Garciaparra in Los Angeles, Tellem told Collettithat he had another free-agent client who was highly motivated to be a Dodger,lefthanded pitcher Randy Wolf. Colletti was interested but wasn't sure he couldafford the price tag in a bull market that would bring Gil Meche a five-year,$55 million contract from Kansas City. Soon Tellem let Colletti know just howmotivated Wolf was: He'd take a one-year contract.
"I thoughthe was probably worth three years, $24 million, maybe two years with an optionfor the third," Colletti says. "In this day and age, when do you see aplayer leave money on the table? But it told me two very important things aboutRandy Wolf. Number 1, he wanted to be a Dodger, and those are the kinds ofplayers we want here. Number 2, it told me he was convinced he was fullyhealthy, because if he wasn't, he would have been looking for the security ofmore guaranteed years."
Wolf (69--60,4.21 ERA in his career) took $8 million to pitch for the Dodgers this year witha $9 million vesting option for 2008 based on innings pitched--far less thannot only Meche money but also the $40 million that went to Ted Lilly (59--58,4.60), the $33.8 million to Vicente Padilla (66--61, 4.06) and the $24.5million to Adam Eaton (54--45, 4.40), who replaced Wolf in Philadelphia.
"The bottomline was, this is where I always wanted to be," says Wolf, who grew up aDodgers fan in Southern California, twice pitched for his high school citysection championship game at Dodger Stadium and starred at Pepperdine."It's a dream come true."
Los Angeles isbanking on getting Wolf at the perfect time--21 months after Tommy Johnsurgery. He had pitched with pain in his elbow since 2002 and did make 12pain-free postoperative starts for the Phillies last year (4--0, 5.56). SaysWolf, "I'm healthy. My arm feels better than it ever felt. It's like I'mback in high school. By the third [warmup] throw I feel like I can throw ashard as I can. Before, if it took me 20 throws to get loose, that wasgood."
Colletti didn'tstop with Wolf in his efforts to build the team around starting pitching, thetraditional Dodgers' strength in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. He alsosigned ace righthander Jason Schmidt, 34, who has made at least 29 starts forfive years running, to a more market-driven three-year, $47 million deal. Theadditions fortified Los Angeles with four starters who have been 16-gamewinners: Derek Lowe, Wolf, Schmidt and Brad Penny. Mix in a power bullpen--onlythe Cubs' pen struck out batters at a better rate last year--that can useTakashi Saito or Jonathan Broxton to close, and Los Angeles can match any staffin the league.
All thatpitching takes pressure off a lineup that last year hit fewer homers than everyteam in the league except Pittsburgh. The Dodgers won a wild-card spot largelybecause they drew walks (third), ran the bases well (second in steals) and hitwell with runners in scoring position (first). They'll employ the same methodthis season and have third baseman Andy LaRoche, 23, first baseman James Loney,22, and outfielder Matt Kemp, 22, on reserve if the offense needs an in-seasonboost.
Los Angeles islooking for consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1995--96,but the franchise needs to address a more vexing dry spell: It hasn't won aplayoff series since 1988, a streak that continued with a three-games-and-outthrashing by the Mets last year. Says Colletti, "There were tears in theclubhouse after that. I can't ever recall a team that took the last day sohard. But the message from the players was the same: I can't wait for nextyear." --T.V.
a modest proposal ...
In his rookieseason last year closer Takashi Saito put up a 3.73 ERA against NL Westopponents but a microscopic 0.24 mark against teams from other divisions. Whythe huge discrepancy? The 37-year-old Saito, who had never been a full-timecloser during his 14-year career with the Yokohama BayStars franchise of theJapanese Central League, relies heavily on getting batters to chase a sliderthat he rarely throws in the strike zone; it's a neat trick but one thatquickly wears thin the more times opponents face him. Manager Grady Littleshould consider using hard-throwing 22-year-old Jonathan Broxton (left) as hiscloser against the West, reserving Saito for the rest of a league that doesn'tsee Los Angeles quite as often. After his May 1 call-up last season, Broxtonsettled into the Dodgers' setup role and struck out 97 in 76 1/3 innings.
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|NOMAR GARCIAPARRA 1B||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†|
* New acquisition B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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204Hits by slap-and-dash leadoff man Juan Pierre in 2006 for his former team,the Cubs, marking the third time in the last four years that he reached 200.His .333 on-base percentage, however, was second worst among every-day leadoffhitters in the NL, and he made 528 outs--the fourth consecutive season thatPierre was in the top three in the league in that category.