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It's a Relief as Dodgers Say Goodbye to Bonilla

Baseball: Mel Rojas is acquired from Mets, and the third-base job belongs to Beltre.

November 12, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NAPLES, Fla. — Completing an expected deal, the Dodgers on Wednesday ended their brief and stormy relationship with Bobby Bonilla, sending the veteran infielder-outfielder and $1 million to the New York Mets for pitcher Mel Rojas.

On the third day of the general managers' meetings here, the Dodgers and Mets swapped players they had been discussing trading for several weeks, paving the way for Adrian Beltre to start at third base for the Dodgers next season. The move reunites Bonilla with the Mets, whom he played for from 1992 to '95.

Bonilla was unavailable for comment because he was in Mexico on a business trip. Bonilla's agent said the switch-hitter, who will play in the outfield with the Mets, is pleased to be going back to New York.

"I know he's really excited because we've spoken a lot about this possibility the past couple of days," said Danny Horowitz of the Beverly Hills Sports Council. "Bobby is from New York and his family is there. This is a second chance for him to finish his unfinished business there."

Despite their comments to the contrary, the Dodgers were eager to trade the outspoken Bonilla because of his criticism of new Manager Davey Johnson, their overall displeasure with him and their confidence in Beltre, who often appeared overmatched last season. Rojas has struggled the last few seasons, but the Dodgers believe the right-hander will be effective in a setup role.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers remained among the teams aggressively pursuing Met switch-hitting catcher Todd Hundley, though they are not optimistic about completing a deal because the Mets want leadoff batter Eric Young, whom the Dodgers are reluctant to trade.

After failing to move forward on a proposed trade with the San Diego Padres earlier this week, Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone increased his efforts to accomplish other off-season goals.

"It hasn't been a secret we need to improve our bullpen, and now we've also created an opportunity for Adrian Beltre to play," Malone said during a news conference in Naples attended by Dodger and Met officials. "I know that Mel did not have the numbers last year in New York that he's capable of having, but we feel we can put him in a role where he can help us.

"We also believe that Adrian Beltre is one of the best young prospects in baseball. He deserves a shot to play, we wanted him to be our everyday third baseman, and this allows that to happen."

Bonilla, who turns 36 in February, was among the Dodgers' main sources of frustration after they acquired him in the seven-player Mike Piazza trade May 15. Bonilla has two years and $11.8 million remaining on his contract.

Rojas, who will turn 32 in December, is signed through next season at about $4.6 million. Rojas saved 66 games with the Montreal Expos in 1995-96, but he has struggled since, going 5-2 with a 6.05 earned-run average and two saves in 50 appearances for the Mets in 1998.

Malone knows Rojas from their time together in the Montreal organization, and he hopes a change of scenery will help the right-hander. Rojas does too.

"I feel that this is a new start for my career," Rojas said during a conference call from his off-season home in the Dominican Republic. "[Dodger closer] Jeff Shaw has been terrific there, I feel so happy to be able to set up for him."

Because of injuries and illness, Bonilla failed to fulfill expectations in 1998. The six-time all-star played in only 100 games, 72 with the Dodgers, batting .249 overall with 11 home runs and 45 runs batted in.

Bonilla said he did not appreciate how he was treated by Dodger officials, particularly senior vice president Tom Lasorda. Lasorda, during his brief reign as the player-personnel boss, promoted Beltre from double-A San Antonio to Los Angeles on June 24.

In 77 games during the just-completed season, Beltre batted only .215 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs. And he was shaky defensively, committing 13 errors.

But Dodger officials believe Beltre, 20, has the potential to become a star.

"I wanted to do this [move Bonilla] now to send Adrian a message," Malone said. "I want him to start preparing mentally for this opportunity.

"The thing that keeps a lot of players from being successful in the big leagues isn't a lack of physical ability, it's not being mentally prepared. We're saying to Adrian, 'Here is your opportunity--now just go and play.' The bottom line is that this kid has to play, and the fans of Los Angeles are going to get a chance to watch a future all-star grow."

Voice your opinion of recent Dodger roster changes along with other fans on The Times' Web site: http://www.latimes.com/dodgers

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Trade

TO THE DODGERS

MEL ROJAS

Record: 5-2

ERA6: .05

1999 Salary: $4.6 million

*

TO THE METS

BOBBY BONILLA

Batting Avg.: .249

HR/RBI: 11/45

1999 Salary: $5.9 million

Elsewhere

AWARD

LARRY DIERKER

Two years after leaving the broadcast booth, he is named National League manager of the year. Page 5

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