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A Red, Wild and Blue Deal

Commentary: Shaw should help, but price of Konerko and Reyes is troubling.

July 05, 1998|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is much to be said for--and about--the trade that the Dodgers made Saturday.

Much to be said for--and about--this latest act in the ongoing circus.

What interim General Manager Tom Lasorda had said, for instance, was to deny stories in The Times that the Dodgers coveted Cincinnati Reds' closer Jeff Shaw and were negotiating a deal that would include Paul Konerko.

No way, Lasorda said, that Konerko was being discussed or would be part of it.

Well, so much for front-office credibility.

On Saturday, Lasorda traded the previously untouchable Konerko, the minor league player of the year in 1997, and Dennis Reyes, his most advanced pitching prospect, for Shaw, who led the big leagues with 42 saves last year and had converted 23 of 28 save chances this year.

What is there to be said for it?

Basically this:

* The Dodgers acquired a 31-year-old proven closer who is signed for the next three years at less than market value.

* Shaw's acquisition allows Antonio Osuna and Scott Radinsky to move into more comfortable setup roles and adds stability and depth to the bullpen at a time when the rotation is devoid of a Ramon Martinez, Randy Johnson and a proven ace of the type who might give the relievers an occasional night off.

* It sends a message to the players that this front office--in collaboration with Manager Glenn Hoffman--has not given up on the season and is willing to pay any price to try to salvage it.

Fair enough. Only the Florida Marlins had blown more leads than the Dodgers from the seventh inning on this season.

Shaw should help change that.

Closers are difficult to develop and acquire, and the former Cincinnati all-star (presumably he will wear a Dodger uniform in Tuesday's game at Coors Field) is young enough to remain at the top of his game throughout the life of an undervalued contract--$2.8 million for each of the next three years--that he was willing to accept for the opportunity to remain in his Cincinnati backyard.

Yes, he has blown five saves this year, but three came when he inherited bases-loaded, no-out situations that required a Houdini. A fourth came when he inherited a two-on, no-out situation.

Clearly, there is plenty to be said for the acquisition, but I'm also troubled by what it took.

In fact, I probably don't like it.

Here's my thinking:

How realistic, with the Dodgers 12 games behind in the division race and seven back in the wild-card race, is it to believe the season can be salvaged? Wouldn't it be more realistic at this point to use the rest of this season to find out if Konerko and Adrian Beltre can play, if Reyes can pitch?

True, Konerko simply may be the latest in a long line of over-hyped Dodger prospects, but are 144 at-bats while playing three positions--first base, third base and left field--a true test?

This is the young player who was regarded so highly that he was penciled in to replace Eric Karros at a time last winter when the Dodgers exposed their first baseman to the expansion draft and made attempts to trade him. This is the young player the Dodgers regarded so highly that they refused to consider dealing him last winter for Pedro Martinez or more recently for Randy Johnson.

Pedro Martinez is a far cry from Jeff Shaw, but then much has changed since then. There is a new owner, a new general manager and a new manager, and we know now that nothing or no one is sacred.

The Fox-owned Dodgers have traded a franchise hitter in Mike Piazza and one of baseball's most touted young players in Konerko, and it is yet to be proved that they are improved.

They have a gaping hole in left field, a power outage at third base, a .211-hitting catcher and a rotation devoid of that ace and any obvious body to replace Reyes. In addition, the farm system is pretty much devoid of apparent help or the prospect that might fetch a veteran starter such as Tim Belcher or Pete Harnisch, who might be the next Red to be traded, if it's not Barry Larkin.

Indeed, some would suggest that what the Dodgers needed more at this point was a reliable starting pitcher, that Osuna has been showing signs recently of adapting to the closer role, although his performance Saturday in San Francisco was more scare than save. One thing is certain: Fred Claire wouldn't have made this trade. He believed in Konerko, believed it would have been too soon to give up on him despite the bullpen need, probably believed that the division title and wild-card berth were realistically out of reach.

Maybe Claire was too committed to the system and too hesitant to pull the trigger, but make no mistake: This was a slap at the former regime by a current regime that is trying to secure permanent jobs as much as salvage the season.

I'd ask Tom Lasorda about that, but would his answer be believable?

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