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New Dodger Is Straight Out of Central Casting

Baseball: Jordan gives team a solid hitter and citizen ... and maybe, he says, a new center fielder.

January 29, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The line of players hoping to roam center field for the Dodgers this spring, already as long as those at Dodger Stadium concession stands, has grown by one.

Brian Jordan, acquired from the Atlanta Braves in the Jan. 15 Gary Sheffield trade, will be thrown into a center-field mix that already includes Marquis Grissom, Tom Goodwin, McKay Christensen and Dave Roberts.

Jordan, who played right field in Atlanta, is expected to open the season in left field, but the Dodgers want to get a good look at Jordan in center during the exhibition season. If Jordan proves he can play center on a regular basis, the Dodgers may leave him there and look to trade for a left fielder.

"He approached Jim [Tracy, Dodger manager] and I and said he will play anywhere in the outfield, but he loves playing center field," Dodger General Manager Dan Evans said of Jordan. "Jim makes out the lineup. But the fact that Brian is an option in center is something we'll explore in spring training. If he can play there, it gives us more flexibility, more options."

Jordan, who was in town Monday for a meet-and-greet session with the media and Dodger officials, said center field is his most natural position. Right field is out of the question, because Shawn Green plays there, and Jordan is more than willing to play left.

"But I could play center field if I have to," said Jordan, who turns 35 on March 29. "Everything is up in the air right now. I don't even know if this is the final roster."

The Dodgers would love to trade Grissom or Goodwin, especially if either could be packaged in a deal for a closer, but finding a taker will be difficult: Grissom, who hit .221 with 21 homers, 60 runs batted in, 16 walks and 107 strikeouts last season, is guaranteed $5 million in 2002, and Goodwin, who hit .231 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 2001, will make $3.25 million this season.

Jordan would be a considerable offensive upgrade in center, but he also has been on the disabled list 10 times, he underwent surgery on both shoulders last winter and he plays defense with a reckless abandon, all of which might persuade the Dodgers to keep Jordan in left, a less rigorous position than center.

Wherever Jordan plays, the Dodgers are convinced his heart will be in it. Jordan was so disappointed by the trade that when Brave General Manager John Schuerholz called to inform him of the deal, Jordan hung up on him, saying he was "stabbed in the back." Jordan lives in Atlanta year-round and didn't want to leave.

"But now that the shock has worn off and reality has set in, I'm looking forward to playing in L.A.," Jordan said Monday. "I look at this club, and there's a lot of talent. We have a great pitching staff, and I think we have a good chance of winning a championship if everybody stays healthy."

Though Jordan has added about 15 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-1 frame this winter and is now 225 pounds, he doesn't expect to match the power of Sheffield, who averaged 37 homers and 103 RBIs the last three years. Jordan hasn't hit more than 25 homers in a season, and he has topped 100 RBIs only twice in 10 years.

"Every season my goal is to hit 20-25 home runs and drive in 100 runs," Jordan said. "Anything after that is a bonus."

Jordan probably can't match Sheffield's power and penchant for disrupting a clubhouse, either, and for that the Dodgers are thankful.

"To me, chemistry was a big thing they were lacking [last season]; they seemed separated," Jordan said. "Hopefully, that will change. My role is to be Brian Jordan, to bring a winning attitude, give 110%, and I expect the same from my teammates.... I'm not here to change, or to take over the clubhouse. If I need to speak up, I will, but I do more leading by example than speaking up."

*

The Dodgers' pursuit of a closer appears to have cooled somewhat because teams have focused on the Dodgers' two most promising young pitchers, right-hander Eric Gagne and left-hander Odalis Perez, in trade talks. The Dodgers, who have spoken to the Boston Red Sox about Ugueth Urbina and the Chicago White Sox about Bob Howry, are reluctant to part with Gagne or Perez and would much rather deal veteran left-hander Omar Daal. Angel closer Troy Percival remains an outside possibility, but only if talks between the Angels and Percival on a contract extension break down. The Dodgers agreed to trade Grissom, reliever Matt Herges and outfield prospect Chin-Feng Chen to the Angels for Percival in early January, but the deal was nixed by Angel upper management.

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