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AROUND THE HORN / ROSS NEWHAN

Dodger Surplus Just Became a Deficit

June 08, 2003|ROSS NEWHAN

Dodger right fielder Shawn Green, who hit 91 home runs the last two years, went to work Saturday with a .269 batting average and a pace that projected to 16 home runs, which would equate to $937,500 for each homer based on the $15 million he is being paid this year.

Baseball economics is what it is, but nothing says more about the devaluation of an offense that ranks last among the 30 major league teams in runs than Green's inability to duplicate his needed production of the last two years. Now, of course, the Dodgers' ability to trade for a hitter has been weakened by the loss of pitcher Darren Dreifort for the season, putting Andy Ashby in Dreifort's rotation spot and removing him as a possible bargaining chip.

General Manager Dan Evans, putting trust in a dominant staff that has been trying to overcome the pathetic run support, has been reluctant to trade any pitching, even with a full complement of starters and Ashby in the spot role, "but now we're definitely in a situation where we can't give up a pitcher," a club official said of the obvious.

With few prospects drawing attention at the minor league level, meager trade interest in Adrian Beltre, more than $30 million owed Dreifort amid his uncertain future, and no desire by the Dodgers to surpass the luxury tax threshold at a time when the club is for sale, the prospect of acquiring an impact hitter before the July 31 trade deadline doesn't seem bright.

Actually, what the Dodgers are now hoping -- in something of an economic reversal -- is that Ashby pitches well enough that his $8.5-million option for next year automatically vests. He needs to pitch 175 innings this year or 350 over this year and last year for that to happen.

Ashby pitched 181 2/3 innings last year but had pitched only 13 2/3 going into Saturday night's start against the Chicago White Sox. If he gets 20 starts over the remainder of the season, he would have to average about eight innings to have a shot at either of the vesting criteria. If he averages eight, it will take a significant sting out of the Dreifort loss, although there is no guarantee how many games he would win given the Dodger offense.

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Shef's Recipe

Now, talk about a hitter who could help the Dodgers and who will be a free agent at the end of the year. Of course, Gary Sheffield carries too much baggage for the Dodgers to reacquire him even though Brian Jordan probably will not return to left field.

One thing for certain: Sheffield has responded to his walk-year status big time. He is driving the Atlanta Braves toward another division title, is the National League's runaway leader among most-valuable-player candidates, has demonstrated ingratitude with the dumping of agent Scott Boras and says of the Braves' refusal to negotiate an extension before the end of the season, "I'm the type of player that if any team allows me to be a free agent, that tells me you don't want me, simple as that."

Must be, if he says it.

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Disappointing Duo

The Philadelphia Phillies, the National League's most disappointing team, arrive Monday to play the Angels, replacing the White Sox, the American League's most disappointing team, on the local marquee. Both the Phillies and White Sox have been offensive flops, with Chicago having already fired batting coach Gary Ward while Phillie batting coach Greg Gross has been under increasing scrutiny.

"You could put Ted Williams in here right now [as batting coach] and we're not going to hit," said Phillie Manager Larry Bowa, who has done an impressive job of restraining his volatile temper even though Pat Burrell was batting .193 through Friday and two of his big-money free agents, David Bell and Jim Thome, were batting .200 and .251 respectively.

"You would think you'd get embarrassed after a while," Bowa said in mid-week. "I would hope that a lot of them are embarrassed. Obviously, there's time to reverse this, but do you reverse it when the horse is out of the barn? Do you start hitting when you're 15 games out? It doesn't mean anything then."

Similarly, the White Sox are on the cusp of an early exit in the AL Central, and it will be a surprise if Manager Jerry Manuel doesn't follow Ward on the firing line.

"That's where the blame is supposed to go, no doubt about that," he told Chicago reporters, talking about his own security. "I feel good about what I do as far as preparation and all that. And I feel good about the game [strategy] in terms of putting things in the right places. But it's just not working out. "

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Good Point

Spurred by the Sammy Sosa suspension, the Arizona Republic tracked down Albert Belle, who was suspended for 10 games in a 1994 corked bat incident. Belle refused to comment on the Sosa situation, but said, "Isn't it interesting that you and your editor care enough to find my house and ask me about this, but no one cares that I've been taking classes at [Arizona State] and I'm about to get my undergraduate accounting degree? What does that say?"

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Making Their Bed

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