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Sheffield Goes South

Outfielder Is Finally Traded, and Dodgers Get Jordan, Perez From Braves

January 16, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA and JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Dodgers relieved themselves of the migraine that was Gary Sheffield, trading the disgruntled slugger to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday for veteran outfielder Brian Jordan, promising young pitcher Odalis Perez and a minor leaguer. Now they may have to hold their breath, hoping they didn't exchange a throbbing headache for a dull pain around the temples.

Sheffield's departure ends a contentious 31/2-year relationship with the Dodgers; the productive but outspoken left fielder blasted team officials while trying to force a trade last February, criticized the team for giving players of lesser ability more money than him, grumbled about where he hit in the lineup and rang in the New Year with another body blow to the front office, saying he did not trust the general manager.

Jordan, the centerpiece of the Braves' package, seems to be the anti-Sheffield, described by Brave General Manager John Schuerholz as "a classy guy, a man of high character, a great citizen of our community and a wonderful person," and by Dodger GM Dan Evans as "a terrific defensive player, a solid offensive player and a leader in the clubhouse."

But Jordan, who was informed of the trade in a phone call with Schuerholz after working out in Atlanta's Turner Field on Tuesday, was clearly not thrilled with a deal that will pull him away from his Atlanta home and force him to move from his best position, right field--Shawn Green's spot in Los Angeles--to left field or possibly center.

"I was laughing with [Atlanta Manager] Bobby Cox and chuckling with [hitting instructor] Terry Pendleton and then, 'Bam!' It ruined my whole night," Jordan, 34, said. "I couldn't even talk to [Schuerholz]. I hung up on him. He stabbed me in the back. Life's a bummer."

Jordan, who is in the fourth year of a five-year, $40-million contract, was upset because Schuerholz had recently asked him to help convince former teammate Pendleton to accept a coaching job and free-agent pitcher John Smoltz to re-sign with the Braves. "They used me to make the team stronger, and then you're gone," he said. Jordan also lives in Atlanta year-round and didn't want to uproot his family, which includes his wife, Pam, and three children.

"I'm disappointed," said Jordan, who batted .295 with 25 home runs and 97 runs batted in last season. "It affects my family more than anything. My agent had no clue. I had no clue. But I'm just going to go out there and do the best I can."

At least Jordan didn't fume at the Dodgers, and in a conference call later Tuesday he said he had not given any thought to the possibility of demanding a trade after the 2002 season, a right he can exercise because he is in the middle of a multiyear contract.

"My agent mentioned that to me, but I'm not worried about that," Jordan said. "Even though the timing of this is not good, and I had no idea it was coming, the Dodgers are a good organization.... I have a lot of respect for them and the players they have. They can win."

But can they win without Sheffield? For all his problems away from the field, Sheffield, who has two years left on a six-year, $61-million deal, was a force on it. He batted .312 with 113 homers and 310 RBIs the last three seasons, an average of 38 homers and 103 RBIs a year, and he provided considerable lineup protection to Green, who batted .297 with 49 homers and 125 RBIs in 2001. Of Sheffield's 36 home runs last season, 24 tied the game or put the Dodgers ahead.

Jordan, who bats right-handed, has never hit more than 25 home runs in any of his 10 big league seasons. A career .287 hitter, he has topped 100 RBIs twice. He has a career .337 on-base percentage, compared to Sheffield's .399.

"Sheffield was a tremendous player last year and for as long as he's been here; his presence in the lineup will definitely be missed," Green said. "At the same time, our acquisitions will help us. Jordan is a consistent outfielder who puts up numbers every year, and Perez is one of the best left-handed prospects in the game."

Sheffield's comments about the Dodgers giving lesser players more money was directed in part at Green, who signed a six-year, $84-million deal, and that created some friction between the two.

Asked Tuesday about his relationship with Sheffield, Green said, "That's kind of a tough question for me to answer. From spring training last year through the end of the season ... there was just a lot of difficult emotions Gary felt he was going through. I definitely think Sheff is a good guy. I consider him a friend and just wish him the best."

Though Sheffield is one of baseball's highest-paid players, he often complained about his contract and a lack of respect. After Dodger Chairman Bob Daly refused to give Sheffield a "lifetime contract" last spring, Sheffield turned spring training in Vero Beach, Fla., into a media circus, ripping the team on an almost daily basis.

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