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The New Dodger Manager Davey Johnson / The Fallout

Bonilla Trade Likely to Usher in Season of Major Changes

October 23, 1998|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The day before the Dodgers introduced Davey Johnson as their new manager they went to work trying to change the team he will lead in 1999.

The Dodgers are moving quickly to trade Bobby Bonilla to the New York Mets because the veteran third baseman cannot coexist with Johnson, baseball sources said Thursday.

And they are set to pursue free-agent first baseman Mo Vaughn, which would lead to the departure of Eric Karros, one of the few holdovers from a quickly bygone era.

Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone had numerous discussions with Steve Phillips, his New York counterpart, during the World Series about sending Bonilla to the Mets.

Bonilla and Johnson had a stormy relationship during their time together with the Baltimore Orioles. Dodger front-office sources acknowledge that reuniting Bonilla and Johnson would be a bad idea.

The current proposal would send Bonilla, who played for the Mets for 3 1/2 seasons, to New York for relief pitcher Mel Rojas. The deal is expected to be completed shortly after the Mets sign catcher Mike Piazza to the largest contract in major league history, which might occur as soon as this weekend.

Contacted at his off-season home in Connecticut, Bonilla said he has heard about the impending deal.

"Yeah, they're definitely shopping me," said Bonilla, who was born and raised in New York. "I figured that as soon as I heard his name [Johnson] involved out there, they would be looking to send me someplace far away. They probably would do it today if they could."

But the Dodgers might be creating an even bigger problem because of Bonilla's relationship with outfielder Gary Sheffield.

Sheffield agreed to waive his no-trade clause with the Florida Marlins on May 15, permitting the seven-player Piazza deal to occur. In part, Sheffield agreed to the trade because Bonilla was included in the deal.

Sheffield intimated he would be unhappy if Bonilla does not return next season. And the Dodgers need Sheffield to be happy.

"The guys I came here with are the guys I'm going to stay here with," Sheffield said. "I wouldn't have wanted to come unless Bobby and the other guys were coming too.

"They [the Dodgers] knew that when we met to talk. They knew how I felt about that--and nothing has changed."

Bonilla believes Johnson didn't treat him with the respect veteran players deserve. Bonilla said that Johnson and former Oriole general manager Pat Gillick did not want him there.

Moreover, Bonilla remains upset about how Johnson approached him about being used as a designated hitter in 1996.

'I didn't have a problem with helping the team, my problem was with the way the whole thing was handled," Bonilla said. "I had 10 years in this game, and they knew that I'm a National League-type player. I need to be out there, and all I wanted to do was play.

"Then, all of a sudden, it's 'Bobby Bo has an attitude problem.' After that, Johnson and Gillick said they had to get the 'bad apples' out of there. I leave and get my [World Series championship] ring [with the Marlins] last season, and [pitcher] David Wells gets his [with the New York Yankees] this season. So we were really the problem."

Ironically, Gillick also might resurface with the Dodgers, as a consultant to Malone. Malone spoke cautiously about the Bonilla situation.

"That's all just speculation right now, but I wouldn't say it's wild speculation," said Malone, the Orioles' assistant general manger when the Bonilla-Johnson feud began.

But several sources said that Malone and Phillips have the deal already in place. The only issue remaining is how much of Bonilla's salary the Dodgers would pay.

Bonilla, who turns 36 in February, 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.

The Dodgers are probably willing to pay at least $2 million to complete the deal. The Mets probably will request at least $4 million because of Bonilla's age and his performance in 1998.

Because of injuries and illness, the six-time all-star played in only 100 games. He batted .249 (83 for 333) with 11 home runs and 45 runs batted in, failing to fulfill expectations after being acquired in the Piazza trade.

But Bonilla has adhered to an intense off-season workout program, and he said he feels stronger.

After saving 66 games from 1995-96, Rojas has struggled. The right-hander, now a setup man, was 5-2 with a 6.05 earned-run average and two saves in 50 appearances this season.

The Dodgers are expected to lose relievers Scott Radinsky and Mark Guthrie to free agency.

They would like to add Vaughn, a left-handed batter whom the team has identified as the No. 1 everyday player in the free-agent class. Vaughn batted .337 with 40 home runs and 115 runs batted in for the Boston Red Sox this season.

The 1995 American League most valuable player rejected a four-year, $37-million offer from the Red Sox in July. Teams have exclusive negotiation rights with their upcoming free agents for 15 days after the World Series ends.

Karros, the Dodgers' starting first baseman since 1992, batted .296 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs this season despite missing the first 21 games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. Karros is signed for the next two seasons at $5 million annually.

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