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Hundley Won't Be Back With Dodgers Next Year

September 12, 2000|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — The Dodgers face future problems as this disappointing season closes.

They have decided not to re-sign productive catcher Todd Hundley, who can become a free agent after the season, creating a hole in the batting order and clubhouse.

And pitcher Chan Ho Park, having another strong season, will receive a huge raise that might make it impossible for the Dodgers to meet their goal of a 2001 payroll under $100 million.

The Dodgers are still focusing on this season, but tomorrow's problems are on the horizon.

"We're concentrating on trying to win right now and nothing else," General Manager Kevin Malone said in a recent interview. "We have [18] games left, and the [National League West and wild-card] races aren't over yet.

"We'll start thinking about next season when this season ends. Until then, nothing will be decided."

The Dodgers have decided Hundley will not return because of payroll issues, baseball sources said.

Hundley, expected to make between $8 million to $10 million per season in his next contract, doesn't fit into the Dodger salary structure.

Team officials also have concerns about Hundley defensively, but money is the main issue.

Many in the organization believe that a catching combination of Chad Kreuter, Hundley's backup, and either Paul LoDuca or Angel Pena will be good enough.

Kreuter, LoDuca and Pena are considered better defensively than Hundley, but what about Hundley's other contributions?

Hundley, making $6 million, has emerged as a force offensively after struggling last season while recovering from reconstructive right elbow surgery.

He is batting .304 with 23 home runs and 62 runs batted in despite two stints on the disabled list because of other injuries. Malone believes Hundley will hit 40 homers next season.

Hundley also is one of the most respected players in the clubhouse because of his mental toughness and commitment to teammates.

He caught in a game earlier this season with a broken right thumb, and regularly plays in pain that would sideline others.

"Todd Hundley is a gamer," left fielder Gary Sheffield said. "I knew from talking to Dwight [Gooden], when they were together with the [New York] Mets, that he's a guy who will play with pain because he's mentally tough.

"He's the type of player you want on your team because he's going to give everything he has for his teammates. Especially after everything he went through last year, you know he's got to be tough."

And then there's Park.

The right-hander--15-9 with a 3.59 earned-run average--cannot become a free agent until after next season, but he's eligible for arbitration and is having a career year.

"For me, he's been throwing like a No. 1 [starter]," Manager Davey Johnson said. "He's been that good."

Park, as a player with five-plus seasons in the majors, can compare himself with this season's free agents in the arbitration process.

That's bad news for the Dodgers because of the pitchers in Park's class.

Beginning play Monday, Park was one of only eight pitchers to have had at least 13 victories the last four seasons.

The others are Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Andy Pettitte, Aaron Sele and David Wells.

Park also is in elite company among pitchers who have worked at least 190 innings the last four seasons. That group includes, among others, Kevin Brown, Glavine, Mike Hampton, Johnson, Maddux and Martinez.

Pitchers in these groups make $10 million or more.

Park probably will more than double his $4.25-million salary next season, and the Dodgers will be under pressure to reach a multiyear agreement with his agent, Scott Boras.

Boras also represents Darren Dreifort, an upcoming free agent who might average $9 million in his next deal.

So the Dodgers hope to replace Hundley's production, re-sign Park and Dreifort to long-term contracts, improve the team and meet their payroll goal.

"We're committed to winning," Malone said. "We'll do what's in the best interest of the Los Angeles Dodgers."

But can they do it under $100 million?

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