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The Money Pit?

Daly Overseeing a Huge Investment Going Nowhere, Says He Can Keep Payroll Below $100 Million, However Unlikely That Seems

September 08, 2000|ROSS NEWHAN

The fate of Manager Davey Johnson--and, perhaps, General Manager Kevin Malone-- remains uncertain as the Dodgers stumble through the September of a season that has long been over for them.

However, this much is certain:

Given the absence of significant help from a barren farm system and the lack of trade flexibility because of their array of complex contracts, the Dodgers are a tangled web-- artistically and financially. They can resolve their serious personnel problems, it would seem, only by continuing to inflate a payroll that is $92 million by their accounting and $98 million in the official industry ledger.

Chairman Robert Daly disputes this premise.

He insisted in a midweek interview that he can keep the 2001 payroll in the current neighborhood without joining the New York Yankees at more than

$100 million or further angering an industry already infuriated by the $105-million signing f Kevin Brown and the $84-million addition of Shawn Green.

Daly said he has given his Fox partners a five-year plan aimed at rebuilding the pitching and defense.

"We will always have home run hitters, but we're not playing in Colorado and we have to restore the basics that have made the Dodgers successful historically," he said.

At the same time, the club will be filtering in young players to help restore payroll and roster balance.

He added that the five-year plan will not interfere with the goal of fielding a competitive and championship team every year.

Honorable objectives, of course, but the harsh reality regarding the 2000 team is another story.

The reality is that the Dodgers are a convoluted mess, a team that may surpass its 77 wins of last year--providing it can win five of its last 22 games--but will seemingly have to compete with the Yankees and their $112-million payroll if it is going to make the improvements necessary to compete with the San Francisco Giants and others in the National League West.


* The Dodgers already have 12 players under contract for next year at a total of $72.15 million. That means the 13 others on a 25-man roster will have to be signed for less than $28 million if the Dodgers are to stay under $100 million.

That might be possible, except that Darren Dreifort is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and Chan Ho Park is eligible for arbitration and certain to test the free-agent market after the 2001 season if the Dodgers fail to sign him to a multiyear contract before that season starts.

Affordability may be an issue, but how can the Dodgers, given their problems finding reliable fourth and fifth starters, not afford to retain their Nos. 2 and 3 starters? The bottom line is, they both are likely to emerge in the $10-million-a-year range. That would lift that $72 million already committed for 2001 to the 2000 level of $92 million, with 11 other players to be signed--among them free-agent-eligible Mike Fetters and Chad Kreuter, both in line for healthy raises.

* Although the Dodgers may save significantly by not re-signing free agent Todd Hundley, who was paid $6 million this year, the possibility of freeing additional payroll room through major trade is remote.

Five key Dodgers--Brown ($15 million next year), Green ($11.5 million), Gary Sheffield ($9.5 million), Eric Karros ($7 million) and Jeff Shaw ($6.05 million)--have no-trade clauses in various forms. The Dodgers have no desire to trade any of them anyway.

In addition, as much as the club would love to dump Malone's deadly duo of Devon White ($5 million next year) and Carlos Perez ($7.5 million), where are they going to find takers?

* Compounding those trade woes, a rebuilding farm system is not ready to provide help.

Eric Gagne will be given another starting opportunity, and the Dodgers may settle for a catching duo of Kreuter and Paul LoDuca, but Daly insists he will not rush young pitchers, as he feels the Dodgers did with Gagne this year.

The system, however, does not have the packaging potential to trade for Jason Kendall, for example, assuming the resources were then available to sign the Pittsburgh Pirate catcher to a six- or seven-year contract.

* A free-agent signing is always an alternative, but considering contract commitments and the expensive necessity of retaining Park and Dreifort, the Dodgers can take on a major free agent only if they're willing to tie up another position for half the decade or more, blow the payroll over $100 million and disprove Daly's contention--expressed in the interview--that his partnership with Fox is not a bottomless pit.

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