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DODGERS IN TRANSITION

Out at Third

Beltre signs with Mariners; Green may be headed to Arizona and Randy Johnson to Yankees

December 17, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Dodger Stadium is undergoing renovation, and earthmovers are digging up ground everywhere. But it will take more than heavy machinery to plug the hole created Thursday at third base. Gaps in right field and on the pitcher's mound could need filling as well.

Free agent Adrian Beltre, the Dodger third baseman since 1998, signed a five-year contract for $64 million with the Seattle Mariners, spurning a Dodger offer of six years for $60 million, plus an option that would have pushed the overall value beyond what the Mariners gave him.

Dodger General Manager Paul DePodesta expressed disappointment, but he immediately moved on, closing in on a three-team trade that would send right fielder Shawn Green, starting pitcher Brad Penny and reliever Yhency Brazoban to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pitcher Randy Johnson, the five-time Cy Young Award winner, would go from Arizona to the New York Yankees, who would send starter Javier Vazquez and two highly regarded minor leaguers to the Dodgers.

The Dodgers and Yankees are still working out details, according to multiple baseball sources, and the trade is partially contingent on Green's coming to a contractual agreement with the Diamondbacks in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause. He is owed $16 million in 2005, part of which the Diamondbacks could defer while at the same time giving him an extension.

Should the trade be finalized, the result would be a dramatic cut in Dodger payroll. The money earmarked for Beltre, the huge sum owed Green and the anticipated $5 million Penny would command in arbitration could be spent on players more to DePodesta's liking, assuming the money will be spent on players.

DePodesta, speaking after the Beltre signing and before details of the trade leaked, countered the perception that the Dodgers are slashing payroll.

"We are going to have a big payroll," he said. "We certainly will have the highest payroll in our division. I think we will have a competitive team."

Beltre grabbed the deal with the higher annual value and the most money up front -- he will get $17 million next season, according to a source close to the negotiation. Although DePodesta was prepared for Beltre to sign elsewhere, he had warmed considerably to the idea of re-signing the popular 25-year-old player and building the team around him.

Beltre was signed by the Dodgers at 15 and became a fixture at third by the time he was 20. After five-plus solid but unspectacular seasons, he blossomed in 2004, finishing second in National League most-valuable-player voting after batting .334 with 48 home runs and 121 runs batted in.

"It hurts," said DePodesta, who is in his first off-season as general manager. "We would have loved to have had him back. We feel like we stepped up and made a competitive offer. Then we tried to make it a compelling one. Unfortunately, Adrian decided to go elsewhere."

Beltre did not return calls to his cellphone and home. He is expected to be introduced at a news conference in Seattle today.

DePodesta says he likes to consider "multiple scenarios" and talks of having "a lot of balls in the air" in remaking the Dodgers. The proposed trade only increases the scenarios.

The Dodgers acquired Penny as the centerpiece of a July trade that also brought first baseman Hee-Seop Choi for popular catcher Paul Lo Duca, pitcher Guillermo Mota and outfielder Juan Encarnacion. However, Penny injured his right biceps in his second Dodger start and questions about his health linger. In fact, the trade might depend in part on his passing a physical.

Brazoban, a rookie last season, is the most difficult player to part with because he commands a low salary and was effective, posting a 6-2 record and 2.48 earned-run average while replacing Mota as the setup man to closer Eric Gagne.

Vazquez, owed $34 million over the next three years, typically logs a lot of innings and scouts say he has tremendous stuff. He faltered down the stretch last season, going 1-4 with an ERA of about 7.00 in his last nine starts. He finished 14-10 and is 78-78 in his career.

The two minor leaguers who would come to the Dodgers were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Yankee organization by Baseball America. Catcher Dioner Navarro, nicknamed "Pudgito" because of his defensive skills and resemblance to Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, finished last season in triple A. Third baseman Eric Duncan, a potential power hitter, is considered at least two years away from the major leagues.

The Dodgers have offers out to several free agents, DePodesta said, including starting pitcher Matt Clement. However, a flurry of recent signings has drastically reduced the number of available top players. Tim Hudson of the Oakland Athletics, a starter the Dodgers chased last week, was traded Thursday to the Atlanta Braves.

Acquiring starting pitching remains the top priority, but now the Dodgers need one big bat to replace Beltre and another to replace Green, who despite a slow start hit 28 home runs last season.

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