Some funny things are already happening to the Dodgers on their way to Kevin Malone's World Series meeting with the New York Yankees.
Actually, they are not so funny.
* The dreaded time bomb that is Gary Sheffield, frustrated by shoulder problems and unhappy with his move to left field, his possible cleanup position in the batting order and club rules he believes are directed solely at him, has begun an ominous ticking.
* Catcher Todd Hundley's reconstructed elbow continues to prevent him from going behind the plate. Hundley was scratched from his first scheduled catching appearance on Sunday and was even scratched from a designated hitter appearance recently by elbow discomfort.
* The bullpen, on the basis of proven quality, has been reduced to Jeff Shaw and Alan Mills. Antonio Osuna, coming back from off-season elbow surgery, has yet to appear in a game and is likely to remain in extended spring training when the Dodgers head to L.A. There has been no sign of a return to form by Mel Rojas, and Pedro Borbon, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 1996 and is coming off reconstructive elbow surgery in 1997, has failed to light up the speed guns, pretty much reducing the club's left-handed options to the nomadic journeyman, Greg Cadaret.
All of that is what we know.
What we don't know is how it will sort out in the three weeks before the season starts.
What we don't know is if the Dodgers will trade for a left-handed reliever like Arthur Rhodes or Randy Myers--or something more depending on Sheffield's shoulder and Hundley's elbow.
What we don't know is how other major issues complicating the above concerns will play out.
Such as Raul Mondesi's ability to bat third, Adrian Beltre's readiness to play third and the indecision at shortstop, where some in the organization favor Mark Grudzielanek's offense and others prefer Jose Vizcaino's defense--particularly with an inexperienced Beltre next to him at third and Eric Young, whose defense is more determined than dazzling, at second.
In fact, if Kevin Brown is going to bust up a Dodgertown toilet because he got scalded in the shower, what is he going to do when burned by mis-played ground balls or ground balls that aren't played at all?
Many of these questions were raised at the start of spring training.
That there are few answers now halfway toward opening day seems unsettling for a club with an $80-million plus payroll, even larger expectations and four National League West rivals itching to make Malone eat his brash predictions--whether made with tongue-in-cheek or not.
The biggest concerns, of course, are Hundley and Sheffield.
The new general manager opted to trade catcher Charles Johnson and his Gold Glove for the 40-home-run potential of Hundley's bat, knowing the Dodgers had been hurting for a left-handed power hitter but knowing that Hundley could still be hurting because of the reconstructive surgery that put him on the disabled list for most of 1998 and prompted the New York Mets to acquire Mike Piazza.
Johnson did not have his best season in '98, but may have needed a year to acclimate to the new and demanding environment of Los Angeles. With the Dodgers spending $105 million on Brown and boasting one of the league's best rotations, the decision to trade a defensively-gifted catcher for the physical uncertainty of the offensive-oriented Hundley seemed a risky trade at the time--and is appearing riskier every day.
If Hundley can't catch, the Dodgers again face a left-handed void in the middle of the lineup and are reduced to Paul LoDuca and Angel Pena, who have each appeared in six major league games. Nor are the Dodgers likely to find frontline catching help via trade.
Sheffield, meanwhile, remains an enigma.
His frustration with the lingering soreness after off-season shoulder surgery is understandable.
His career pattern of complaint and dissatisfaction is not.
Seldom has a player been paid more for doing less.
In 11 seasons, Sheffield has had two big ones. He almost won a triple crown with the San Diego Padres in 1992, and he hit 42 homers and drove in 120 runs with the Marlins in 1996. Injuries have played a part, but those are the only two seasons in which he hit more than 30 homers or drove in more than 100 runs.
The Marlins, however, signed him to a six-year, $61-million contract before the 1998 season, and when Fox executive Chase Carey turned his fantasy league aspirations to reality by trading Piazza and Todd Zeile to Florida last May for Sheffield, Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich and Manuel Barrios, the Marlins and Dodgers each gave Sheffield $2.5 million to waive his no-trade provision. The Marlins also told Sheffield he would not have to repay a $2.5-million loan.
Was it all a matter of Florida's payroll purge, or were the Marlins also thrilled to dump the personality, defuse the potential combustion?