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They Need Bat Man, Get Robin

After failing to acquire Boone from the Reds, Dodgers settle for veteran Ventura, a short-term solution who primarily will play first.

August 01, 2003|Jason Reid | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA — The Dodgers finished second in a two-team race Thursday as the New York Yankees outbid them for All-Star third baseman Aaron Boone, and then the Dodgers acquired infielder Robin Ventura from the Yankees.

General Manager Dan Evans was thwarted in his attempt to fill the team's need for a productive right-handed batter, watching the Yankees get Boone from the payroll-slashing Cincinnati Reds for minor league left-handers Brandon Claussen, Charlie Manning and $1 million.

Seattle pulled out of the bidding late Wednesday night for Boone, whose brother, Bret, is a Mariner All-Star second baseman.

With the Dodgers reeling and the clock ticking toward Thursday's 1 p.m. PDT non-waiver deadline, Evans again returned to the familiar, dealing for Ventura, who spent 10 years with the Chicago White Sox while Evans worked in their front office.

Ventura, 36, was headed to the Yankee bench with the arrival of Boone, enabling the Dodgers to get the two-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove award winner for outfielder Bubba Crosby and triple-A right-hander Scott Proctor.

The Dodgers will pay the remaining $1.54 million of Ventura's one-year, $5-million contract, leaving them about $1 million under the $117-million luxury tax threshold.

Crosby, 27, was the club's top draft pick in 1998, but he and Proctor, 26, weren't part of Evans' long-term plan. It is doubtful Ventura, who becomes the team's everyday first baseman, will be either.

Although Evans added another left-handed batter to the team's left-handed heavy lineup, he's confident Ventura is a good fit on the field and in the clubhouse. And the Dodgers need as much help as possible now.

"Ideally, I wish we were swinging the bats better, but obviously we're not," said Evans, who has had mixed results in acquiring former White Sox players.

"Anyone who can come and help your club offensively, whether he's right-handed or left-handed, is going to benefit your ballclub. I've known this guy for 13 or 14 years, I know the tremendous character he has, the leadership that he has.

"He's a winner.... His presence alone in our clubhouse will give us a better chance of overcoming some of the offensive adversity we've been experiencing."

Ventura struggled in the high-powered Yankee lineup this season, batting .251 with nine home runs and 42 runs batted in. After hitting .202 with one homer and 13 RBIs in June, the Santa Maria native hit .231 without a homer and six RBIs in July.

Overall against left-handers, Ventura is batting .194 with two homers and four RBIs.

"I feel good at the plate now," said Ventura, who was with the Yankees in Anaheim and plans to meet the Dodgers today in Atlanta. "It's probably the best I've felt at the plate all year. That's at least good news."

Manager Jim Tracy acknowledged that the Dodgers needed a right-handed batter, "but the opportunity to go out there and actually get [one] was a lot easier said than done. I don't think you have to be that smart to recognize that fact."

The Dodgers also pursued first baseman Richie Sexson of the Milwaukee Brewers, two baseball executives familiar with the trade talks said. However, Evans was unwilling to move the club's top pitching prospects.

Evans hopes his second acquisition of a left-hander batter this month, following the July 14 deal that brought outfielder Jeromy Burnitz from the New York Mets, finally provides a spark for the somnolent Dodger batting order ... and an annual second-half wake-up call for third baseman Adrian Beltre.

With Fred McGriff possibly sidelined for the remainder of the season because of knee and groin injuries, Tracy plans to use Ventura primarily at first base. However, the Dodgers hope the presence of Ventura pushes Beltre to produce and retain his everyday job for the remainder of what might be his final season in Los Angeles.

"I don't know what to expect, I don't know what's going to happen," said Beltre, batting .224 with nine homers and 41 RBIs. "No one said anything to me. I just have to do my job and wait to hear something. Regardless of what's going to happen, I can't do anything about it.

"I know I'm part of the reason [the team has struggled]. I'm not doing my job the way I know I can, I'm not hitting, so they can say anything they want. But it's about the team, it's not about one person. I'm going to just wait and see."

Although some in the clubhouse expressed admiration for Ventura, others declined comment on Evans' latest move.

"It's pretty obvious that we really need help right now," catcher Paul Lo Duca said, "and hopefully Robin can help us."

*

(Begin Text of Infobox)

Robin Ventura File

The Dodgers acquired third baseman Robin Ventura from the New York Yankees for outfielder Bubba Crosby and pitcher Scott Proctor. A look at Ventura's career highlights and statistics:

* Age: 36. * Birthplace: Santa Maria.

* High School: Righetti. * College: Oklahoma State

* Height: 6-1. * Weight: 198.

* Bats: Left. Throws: Right.

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