TUCSON — Major league teams can begin making offers to players other than their own today, but the Dodgers won't be breaking from that gate, or as General Manager Dan Evans put it, "right now, I don't want to be a pretender in the market. We're here on a fact-finding mission, seeing what other clubs need, sorting out the value of our own players."
Evans would like to discover Christmas in November.
He would like to learn that Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek have unexpected value, opening a creative door to moving their roster and payroll inhibiting contracts, letting the Dodgers improve the offense.
Without that flexibility, from a financial and position standpoint, Evans said, he is virtually handcuffed.
No big money offer to a free-agent hitter.
No big money offer at this early juncture to a left-handed reliever of free-agent Mike Remlinger's stature.
Remlinger has rejected a three-year, $6-million offer to re-sign with the Atlanta Braves, and the market on left-handed relievers of any age is such that all 30 clubs are probably in it.
Consider that a senior named Jesse Orosco has already heard from the Angels (who may be forced to trade Scott Schoeneweis if he insists on starting) and San Diego Padres, complicating even that possible avenue for the Dodgers, who have already guaranteed $95 million to 12 players and insist they won't surpass the luxury tax threshold of $117.5 million.
For now, burdened with Karros and Grudzielanek, Evans has to be satisfied with small rewards.
Monday, for instance, was the deadline for players who were traded with multi-year contracts to exercise their right to demand a trade, but relief pitchers Paul Shuey and Paul Quantrill chose not to follow Brian Jordan, who had previously exercised that right. With Shuey and Quantrill locked in for 2003, Evans said it further stabilizes the bullpen and illustrates how far the Dodgers have progressed in less than a year.
"When you think back to last spring we had no idea even who our closer would be or that we'd find him right in the barracks in Vero Beach," he said, referring to Eric Gagne.
For the now limited Dodgers, similar surprises may be harder to find.
The new and restrictive bargaining agreement, combined with the industry wide budget tightening, is expected to create a cold winter for free agents and arbitration-eligible players who may not be tendered contracts in December, but it won't slow the Phillies, the one club expected to come storming out of the gate today.
Pegged to a core of promising young players and increased revenue when they move into a new ballpark in 2004, the Phillies are expected to make a five-year, $75-million offer to first baseman Jim Thome today, plus three-year offers to Tom Glavine and David Bell.
"We're willing to advance the payroll ($58 million this year) as a bridge into the new facility," General Manager Ed Wade said. "We feel we have a club that's both built for the long term and close to winning."
Oakland General Manager Billy Beane is believed to have turned down a five-year, $12.5-million offer from the Boston Red Sox, along with the use of a private jet and an apartment in Newport Beach to facilitate visits with his 12-year-old daughter, Casey, who lives with his first wife.
Beane, who was scheduled to arrive at the general managers meetings Monday night, acknowledged in a conference call from Oakland that he found the prospect of becoming Boston's general manager--"arguably one of the most prestigious jobs in all of sports," he said--to be intoxicating, and at one point agreed to the offer only to be swept by remorse.
Beane said he felt that he would be "steamrolling the personal side of my life," and that from a personal and professional standpoint "I felt I'd be cheating everybody."
Where that leaves the Red Sox, who did manage to re-sign pitcher Tim Wakefield to a three-year, $13-million contract Monday, is unclear. However, there was rampant speculation late Monday that Boston would entrust the general manager position to 27-year-old Theo Epstein, a Harvard graduate who apprenticed in San Diego under General Manager Kevin Towers and former Padre president Larry Lucchino, who hired Epstein in Boston when Lucchino became the Red Sox president.
The impression is that the Red Sox would surround Epstein with a veteran group of baseball people.
Seattle is expected to name Lou Piniella's successor as manager on Wednesday, and Dodger bench coach Jim Riggleman remains at the forefront of the four finalists.
"He definitely had the best references," a Mariner official said.
The Dodgers have hired lawyer Mark Rosenthal to handle contract negotiations and arbitration hearings. Rosenthal formally worked for the Angels, signing many of their current players.