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Sports Extra / Major League Preview: Baseball 2000

After Fox Fiasco, Dodgers Seeking Daly Affirmation

Season preview: New boss has high hopes after two seasons of diminished returns, but team has several question areas.


MONTREAL — Fox flopped directing the Dodgers in two big-budget productions, and poor reviews prompted major changes.

Fox turned to Bob Daly to salvage their $311-million investment, hoping the former Warner Bros. studio boss, renowned for box-office success, still has the touch.

The Fox/Daly Dodgers open Monday night against the Expos at Olympic Stadium, and how the revised third-year show fares will help determine the new boss' mood. The baseball-operations staff believes its plan is sound, and Daly expects progress after increasing the opening-day payroll to more than $90 million.

Of course, Daly knows there are no guarantees, and General Manager Kevin Malone thought last season's script was solid too. The stakes are high, and management can't afford another wasted season.

The Dodgers have power, and the bullpen and bench are seemingly improved. But there are question marks defensively and in the starting rotation beyond Kevin Brown, and the expectations are typically high.

"Getting the Dodgers on the right road is something I take very seriously," said Daly, Dodger managing partner, chairman and chief executive. "I feel this way because I understand how important Dodger tradition is to so many people, and I look upon Dodger tradition as something we have to bring forward. We have to modify it slightly and update it, and we have to make sure that we develop the right plan to accomplish that."

Last season's plan failed.

The Dodgers finished 77-85, third in the National League West despite many high-priced moves intended to strengthen the club. Could a repeat performance trigger another organizational purge?

"I can't picture Davey Johnson not managing the Dodgers this year unless he decides he doesn't want to manage," Daly said. "I do not foresee any reason why Kevin will not be the general manager of the Dodgers this year. I would be surprised, come the end of the year, if Kevin Malone wasn't our general manager, unless something goes crazy that I don't know about.

"I guess anything could happen because a lot of things have happened, but I don't foresee me making a decision to make any changes in those two positions. I think we've put together a good team and made some good new additions."

Shawn Green is the top newcomer.

The Dodgers swapped all-star right fielders with the Toronto Blue Jays in November, sending disgruntled Raul Mondesi to Canada and acquiring Green in a four-player deal. Green provides the left-handed power the Dodgers have lacked since the early '90s, and the new cleanup batter is eager to get started.

"The Dodgers brought me in to do a job and help this team win, and that's what I want to do," said Green, in the first year of a six-year, $84-million contract.

"Being the left-handed guy in the middle, and maybe helping some other guys elevate their games, that's the most important thing. Yeah, the [individual] numbers are the numbers, but the numbers don't win games. You put up numbers in doing the job, but that's really not going to matter unless you're helping other guys and the team wins."

Green has support. Left fielder Gary Sheffield is coming off one of his finest seasons, joining Hall of Famer Duke Snider as the only players in franchise history to bat at least .300 with 30 home runs, 100 runs batted in, 100 runs and 100 walks.

Eric Karros also had his best all-around season, batting .300 for the first time (at .304) and hitting 34 home runs with 112 RBIs. The Dodgers rewarded the longtime first baseman with a multiyear contract, and Karros needs only 18 homers to become the all-time Los Angeles franchise leader.

People throughout the game are convinced that third baseman Adrian Beltre, who turns 21 Friday, will become an all-star. Daly gave Beltre a three-year deal to settle the matter of the former regime violating major league rules in signing him before his 16th birthday, removing a potential distraction for the young player and club.

Catcher Todd Hundley hit 24 homers last season, but, because of a sore elbow, threw out only 32 of 139 runners. Hundley's elbow now appears to have recovered fully from the 1997 reconstructive surgery.

Kevin Brown had a strong 18-victory season, but developing starters Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort struggled.

"I think we'll be better off than last year, especially from a health standpoint," Karros said. "Todd will have a big impact on the team if he's healthy. He'll definitely make a big difference."

Malone made several bullpen moves, acquiring relievers Terry Adams, Gregg Olson and Mike Fetters to help closer Jeff Shaw. The bullpen's success, though, might hinge on second-year pitcher Onan Masaoka, the only left-hander in the six-man group.

If Masaoka can't handle his role as left-handed specialist, the Dodgers might be forced to make a deal. Shaw likes the bullpen mix.

"We're better, no doubt about it," said Shaw, who had 34 saves last season. "The starters now know they don't have to go six, seven or eight innings. It just makes their job easier."

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