Dodgers' $90M means no excuses

On Baseball

February 13, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

LOS ANGELES -- It will be put-up-or-shut-up time when the big-spending Los Angeles Dodgers head for spring training this week. If general manager Kevin Malone and manager Davey Johnson cannot buy a playoff berth for $90 million in 2000, they may not get another chance.

Of course, no one in the Fox Sports hierarchy is going to say that publicly, not at a time when the acquisition of emerging superstar Shawn Green has Southern California baseball fans dreaming of a Dodgers decade. But the competition remains fierce in the well-heeled National League West.

Malone can be forgiven for the fit of exuberance that led him to declare that "there's a new sheriff in town" on the day the club signed Kevin Brown to a record contract at the 1998 winter meetings, but his words came back to haunt him when the club finished third behind the equally free-spending Arizona Diamondbacks and longtime rival San Francisco Giants.

Last year's team squabbled too much and won too little, calling into question Johnson's vaunted ability to create good team chemistry. Malone acted decisively in the off-season, trading unhappy outfielder Raul Mondesi to the Tononto Blue Jays for Green and dealing inconsistent starting pitcher Ismael Valdes to the Chicago Cubs.

The acquisition of Green surely will make for a steadier offense, but the Valdes deal was a risky venture that could put Malone on the hot seat if the young right-hander suddenly realizes his vast potential. Good young pitching is hard to find, so it stands to reason that it should be just as hard to give up.

The Dodgers have potential to be an exciting team. Outfielder Gary Sheffield still is one of the best all-around hitters in the game and first baseman Eric Karros is one of the game's most consistent run-producers. If Green lives up to the hype and catcher Todd Hundley can recapture some of his lost pop, the heart of the lineup could be nothing short of frightening.

That would take some pressure off the pitching staff, but the Dodgers still have to get more from their starting rotation than was evident during last year's disappointing campaign. Brown's on-field leadership is a given, and the club apparently hopes that the return of savvy veteran Orel Hershiser will have a positive effect on still-maturing pitchers Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort.

No expense has been spared. No stone unturned.

Now, for Malone and Johnson, there may be no margin for error.

Deal in review

Superstar Ken Griffey got his way. He worked the system and forced the Seattle Mariners to deal him to the Cincinnati Reds, then signed a less-than-market contract to prove that it wasn't about the money.

But the big winner in this off-season soap opera was Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who held tight to the club's top young prospects when it would have been tempting to make a big splash when Griffey became available last October.

The Reds didn't have to give up Pokey Reese or Sean Casey or even Scott Williamson. They traded some good players -- Brett Tomko is a solid starting pitcher and Mike Cameron is a good young outfielder -- but it would be difficult to make the case that the Mariners got equal value for one of the greatest players of all time.

Bowden, who earlier acquired power-hitting outfielder Dante Bichette to replace lost free agent Greg Vaughn, has put together an explosive offensive club that should be competitive in the National League Central.

The Mariners, meanwhile, appear to have taken a step backward in an otherwise productive off-season, not that GM Pat Gillick had much of a choice. Griffey made it crystal clear that he did not want to open the season in a Mariners uniform, then used his status as a 5-10 player (five years with the same team, 10 years of major-league service) to assure that Seattle deal only with the Reds.

He manipulated the situation perfectly and got what he wanted. Guess you can't fault him for that.

The other shoe

The day that news of the Griffey deal broke, there were reports that the Mariners would turn around and send Tomko to the Anaheim Angels for veteran center fielder Jim Edmonds, but trade talks apparently have cooled.

The fallen Angels have been stuck in neutral throughout the off-season and figure to head into spring training as the odds-on favorite to finish last in the American League West.

But they continue to drive too hard a bargain for Edmonds, the one top-quality guy on the roster who is expendable.

Meanwhile, frustrated fans continue to wonder why the Walt Disney Co. bought the franchise in the first place. Everyone assumed that the entertainment giant would pour money into the team and turn it into one of the dominant large-market clubs, but -- other than signing Mo Vaughn last off-season -- the Angels have been surprisingly frugal and have lost ground to the rest of the AL West.

Financial fallout

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