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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Standing Pat Was Luxury Dodgers Couldn't Afford

September 02, 2003|Ross Newhan

So, Shawn Green, calling it a factor but not an excuse for his significant dropoff in power and production this year, reveals he has been taking anti-inflammatory medicine for right shoulder pain since spring training and may require postseason surgery for bursitis and a frayed labrum.

The right fielder, of course, is the axis around which the Dodger lineup -- such as it is -- was built this year, and his revelation raises a question or, perhaps, two:

1. Have the Dodgers, by not divulging his condition, knowingly allowed him to take the bullet (when it wasn't being aimed at Adrian Beltre) for the ongoing ineptitude of the offense?

2. With it obvious (at least to the scouts who work Dodger Stadium regularly) that Green's swing hasn't been the same, and with management and the medical staff aware of his discomfort, wouldn't it have behooved the club to pay any price in an effort to improve the offense rather than using the luxury tax threshold as a self-imposed payroll cap?

Well, maybe there's not one answer that satisfies both questions. After all, at no time had Green made an internal issue of his condition, asked out of the lineup or even received daily treatment for the condition, according to both Green and the club, so it would have been difficult for the Dodgers to turn it into an ongoing public discussion.

In fact, Green talked about it Monday only under prodding from The Times' Jason Reid, who had become aware of his condition, and as General Manager Dan Evans said, "As far as his shoulder being an issue, nobody knows what role it has played in terms of his season. No one has that answer, but it was never a situation where it precluded him from playing. He's the ultimate team player and a great competitor, and all along the opinion of Dr. [Frank] Jobe and the trainers, along with Shawn, has been that he could continue playing."

Green has missed only two games, and those only because of a brief case of stiffness in his neck, so it may be stretching it to suggest the Dodgers could have done a better job of helping him dodge the bullet, especially since he never asked for that help.

On the other hand, there has been no excuse for management's decision to hide behind the luxury cap at a time when so much of the offense hinged on Green duplicating his production of the last two years, when Brian Jordan went down for the season and Fred McGriff disappeared for a large part of it, and when it became obvious that Kevin Brown was healthy and the high-salaried pitching staff was good enough to carry the Dodgers to the playoffs if the lineup received a shot of substantive help.

In fairness, of course, Evans has been burdened by the familiar issues of immovable contracts and lack of depth in a rehabilitating farm system, but his situation was compounded by the decision to appease the industry by remaining under the tax threshold despite the already sizable investment in the pivotal pitching staff and the mounting awareness, as the season progressed, that Green's problems at the plate probably went beyond mechanics.

Green may not have made an issue of it, and the medical staff may not have thought he would be aggravating the condition by continuing to play (he did not have the MRI test revealing the frayed labrum until Aug. 19), but it seemed obvious that this wasn't just a slump or, perhaps, a player wilting under pressure. Green had slugged 91 home runs and driven in 239 runs under the pressure of his $84-million contract in the last two of his three years with the Dodgers -- 49 homers in 2001 with Gary Sheffield providing protection and 42 last year with a lineup vacuum similar to this year's.

Now, Green has 12 homers and 61 RBIs, and the Dodgers have scored one run or less 34 times while playing 44 games decided by one run.

And basically there can be no other conclusion at this late date than that what you see is what you get from the right fielder and a lineup that remains last in most of the National League's offensive categories as the Dodgers try to sustain their wild-card hopes with the calendar now reading September and little hope of significant help now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have rejected what a source said was a series of proposals by Evans for Reggie Sanders on Sunday night's deadline for adding players who would be eligible for the playoffs.

There are 26 games left and Green and will continue to go out there, unable, he said, to generate bottom-hand power or finish off swings because of the shoulder discomfort.

"There's nothing I can do about it now," he said. "I just have to play through it."

Said teammate Dave Roberts: "I was wondering when this was going to come out, because he's known about it for a long time. But when you see your team struggling, and he's such an unselfish player, he wants to be in the lineup despite all the criticism from people about not putting up power numbers. He's been hurt for the whole year and didn't say anything about it [publicly]. He feels he wants to be out there at whatever cost."

Cost? The cost to Green has been in his statistics and the abuse he has shouldered from critics.

The cost to the Dodgers has been in their unwillingness to pay the cost.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*--* Big Dropoff Comparing Shawn Green's power numbers with his other Dodger seasons: YEAR HR AVG SLUG% 2000 24 269 472 2001 49 297 598 2002 42 285 558 2003 12 275 436

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