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White Takes Center Stage

J.A. ADANDE

After spending wisely on a center fielder, Malone must take a chance and flash big bucks to sign Brown.

November 07, 1998|J.A. ADANDE

Kevin Malone's bosses should be very happy that on the first day he could go shopping with their money he went to Sears instead of Gucci.

Friday's signing of center fielder Devon White won't cause a run on 1999 Dodger season tickets, but it's a good purchase by the new general manager.

Perhaps Malone overspent by giving Jeff Shaw $5.5 million a year to stay in L.A., and maybe he bailed out of the Bernie Williams bidding too early by getting White. At least the Dodgers have a closer and a center fielder for next year, two fewer items to worry about on a to-do list that seems to be shrinking by the day.

Besides, you can't expect the Dodgers to sign Kevin Brown and Mo Vaughn and Williams. At some point they had to settle for someone with less luster.

Malone did some window shopping and talked to Williams' agent. Then he exercised restraint.

At a salary of $2.5 million next year, White fills a need and he fills it pretty cheaply. (That salary looks even better given the possibility that, should the Dodgers choose to buy out the fourth year of his contract, they will pay him $900,000 not to play for them in 2002.)

As an added bonus, Raul Mondesi can feel better because he gets to go back to right field.

Of course, Gary Sheffield was hoping he could go to right field, but he appears to be stuck in left. At least White is another former Florida Marlin, which might make Sheffield a little less upset should the Dodgers trade his buddy Bobby Bonilla.

Malone said Manager Davey Johnson and Sheffield talked and Sheffield is cool with playing left field.

So White will turn 36 in December. Big deal. It should be quite obvious by now that the Dodgers are all about winning immediately at the big league level while they try to revamp the farm system. Long-term applies to Mondesi, and that's about it. The players in Dodger uniforms will come and go. They should attach their names with Velcro instead of sewing them on.

Besides, White didn't appear to be slowing down as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. He batted .279, his second-best average since 1991. His 22 home runs and 85 runs batted in were both only two shy of his career highs set with the Angels in 1987. His 22 stolen bases were as many as he has had since he stole 34 in 1993.

White also gives the right-hand heavy Dodgers a switch-hitter, one who can be used in a variety of places in the lineup.

It's not the left-handed power of Vaughn, but it's a start. Anything that gives the Dodgers less reason to trade Eric Karros is a plus. Sure, it would be better to have Vaughn at first base than Karros. It's just that it would cost too much, and Karros is one of the Dodgers left who can remember when being a Dodger meant something.

The Dodgers needed a center fielder more than they needed a first baseman. Yes, they could have done better than White. They also could have done much, much worse. And this way they know exactly what they'll have to spend on a center fielder.

"It stabilizes my payroll," Malone said. "It takes away some of the uncertainty as to what the payroll's going to be. We're locked in with one of the premier center fielders."

OK, Kevin, you've shown you can shop economically. Now you've earned yourself a spending spree. Go max out the credit cards on Kevin Brown.

Yes, Brown has turned into something of a mercenary with stops in four towns over the past five seasons. But he wins everywhere he goes. And he's money in the playoffs. This October made two years in a row his pitching staff beat the Atlanta Braves' awesome rotation. (A bit of advice: Don't use him in relief, and give him a flu shot before the World Series.)

Besides, he forces the other guys in the rotation to pitch better. Dave Stewart received a good deal of credit for the success of the San Diego Padre pitchers this season, but other members of the staff were quick to cite Brown's intensity. He could instill the toughness that a guy like Chan Ho Park needs to reach the next level.

White's nice, but as long as he's shopping, Malone should add a little color to the wardrobe. Something in a nice shade of Brown.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The White Stuff

A look at where Devon White ranked among the 16 starting National League center fielders last season:

Batting average: .279; 8th.

Behind Rondell White, Carl Everett, Raul Mondesi, Doug Glanville, Jermaine Allensworth, Ray Lankford and Ellis Burks.

*

Home runs: 22; 4th.

Behind Mondesi, Lankford and Andruw Jones.

*

RBIs: 85; 4th.

Behind Mondesi, Lankford and Jones.

*

Runs: 84; 6th.

Behind Mondesi, Glanville, Lankford, Steve Finley and Jones.

*

On-base percentage: .335; 8th.

Behind Reggie Sanders, Everett, R. White, Brian McRae, Allensworth, Lankford and Burks.

*

Slugging percentage: .456; 8th.

Behind Everett, Mondesi, R. White, McRae, Lankford, Burks and Jones.

*

Stolen bases: 22; 4th.

Behind Glanville, Lankford and Jones

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