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Nomo Returns, Park Relocates

Dodgers: Former rookie of year signs two-year deal, as ex-teammate agrees to five-year contract with Rangers.

December 21, 2001|BILL SHAIKIN and JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Dodgers welcomed back pitcher Hideo Nomo Thursday and bid farewell to fellow right-hander Chan Ho Park, who is set to join the Texas Rangers this weekend.

Once poster boys for outrageous spending, the Dodgers guaranteed Nomo a relatively modest $13.25million for the next two years. Park, who never got a contract offer from the Dodgers, has agreed to a five-year contract with the Rangers that could guarantee him $71million--or allow him to become a free agent after the 2002 season, baseball sources said.

Nomo, 33, gets a $1-million signing bonus and a $4-million salary this season. The Dodgers acquired left-hander Omar Daal and his $5-million salary last month, so they will pay Nomo and Daal less next season to fill two spots in the starting rotation than the Rangers will pay Park. Nomo will earn $7 million in his second season, and, if he pitches enough innings, will also receive a guaranteed contract for the following season. If he does not meet his innings requirement, the Dodgers can buy out the option for $1.25 million.

The Dodgers hope Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby can rebound from injuries, that Nomo and Daal can provide quality innings and erratic youngster Eric Gagne can beat out Terry Mulholland, who would otherwise pitch in relief, for the final spot in the rotation. "This gives us six solid starters," Dodger General Manager Dan Evans said.

Nomo has pitched 388 innings over the last two seasons. He went 13-10 with a 4.50 earned-run average for the Boston Red Sox last season, pitching a no-hitter and leading the American League in strikeouts. He went 1-6 with a 5.89 ERA over the final two months, but Evans said Dodger scouts had watched him in September and recommended his signing.

So did Dave Wallace, the interim general manager last summer and now senior vice president of baseball operations. Wallace, the pitching coach when Nomo joined the Dodgers, impressed upon Evans how much Nomo wanted to return.

"He knows my pitching well. He knows my feelings well," Nomo, speaking through an interpreter, said of Wallace. "If there's any kind of issues or problems, I can lean on him for advice. He's a very big part of it."

Nomo took Los Angeles by storm in 1995. Nomomania celebrated the pitcher with the devastating forkball who led the National League in strikeouts, started the All-Star game and won rookie-of-the-year honors during his first season with the Dodgers. As the first big-name Japanese player to succeed in the major leagues, he paved the way for such stars as Ichiro Suzuki, the American League most valuable player, and Seattle Mariner teammate Kazuhiro Sasaki to migrate to America.

But Nomo and the Dodgers soured on each other in 1998, after Nomo underwent elbow surgery and failed to recover his peak form. Within weeks of the Dodgers trading his catcher, Mike Piazza, and with Wallace already off to the New York Mets, Nomo requested a trade.

The Dodgers responded by calling a news conference to remove him from the roster, then traded him to the Mets. He has pitched for a new team each season since then--the Milwaukee Brewers in 1999, the Detroit Tigers in 2000 and the Red Sox last season--and now returns to the birthplace of Nomomania.

Former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley, who brought Park from South Korea and watched proudly as he became the first Korean to play in the major leagues, said he was disappointed that Park's career would not continue in Los Angeles.

"I think Chan Ho's best years are ahead of him," O'Malley said, "and I hoped he would sign with the Dodgers because I think he's going to be an impact pitcher for a number of years.

"I think he's going to help his team, and I hoped he would do that for the Dodgers. If Chan Ho has decided to pitch elsewhere I respect that. Sometimes a change of scenery is good."

Baseball sources said the Rangers will pay Park $13 million in each of the next five seasons, although the club can opt out after one year. If they choose to keep him, they must pay him an additional $6 million, pushing the value of the pact to $14.2 million a year.

Scott Boras, Park's agent, declined to confirm the Rangers' offer, but late Thursday said, "We should have a decision very soon about Chan Ho's future. I don't think it's any secret that Texas needs premium pitching."

Boras is expected to arrive in Texas on Saturday for the news conference introducing Park as a Ranger. Texas owner Tom Hicks and Boras, who set the parameters for the Park deal a month ago, negotiated the record 10-year, $252-million contract that all-star shortstop Alex Rodriguez signed a year ago. Park would give Boras five clients on the Rangers' 40-man roster.

The Rangers had the worst earned-run average in the major leagues last season, for the second consecutive season. They cleared some payroll space Thursday by releasing pitcher Rick Helling, their opening-day starter and top winner last season. Helling, who won 12 games with a 5.17 ERA, might have made as much as $7 million in salary arbitration.

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