LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — In the most impressive recovery of the winter meetings, the Dodgers bounced back one day after essentially cutting ties with four free agents by agreeing to terms with starting pitcher Jason Schmidt and veteran outfielder Luis Gonzalez on Wednesday.
Schmidt, the ace of the San Francisco Giants staff the last five seasons, will sign a three-year deal for $47 million, getting $12.5 million in 2007, $15 million in 2008 and $16 million in 2009. In addition, $2.5 million is deferred to 2010 and $1 million will be paid in 2011.
Gonzalez, who didn't come to an agreement until 1 a.m. EST, has a one-year, $7.35-million deal and assurances from Manager Grady Little that he will be the starting left fielder. The left-handed hitting Gonzalez, 39, batted .271 with 15 homers and 52 doubles last season and will replace J.D. Drew in the Dodgers lineup, probably batting between right-handers Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent.
A day earlier, the Dodgers learned that Drew and shortstop Julio Lugo signed with the Boston Red Sox, pitcher Greg Maddux went to the San Diego Padres, and closer Eric Gagne spurned an offer to stay in L.A. and will shop around for a better deal.
Schmidt also was pursued by the St. Louis Cardinals and Seattle Mariners, but his strong relationship with Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti and head athletic trainer Stan Conte cemented the deal. Colletti and Conte both were employed by the Giants when Schmidt went 73-44 from 2001 to 2005.
"Jason brings a lot to the team," said Dodgers pitcher Brett Tomko, who was Schmidt's teammate with the Giants. "He gives you seven to eight innings consistently. He wants the ball."
Schmidt, who will turn 34 in January, joins a rotation that also includes veterans Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, newly signed left-hander Randy Wolf and second-year right-hander Chad Billingsley.
The Dodgers also have young left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo, who made several quality starts in September, and veteran left-hander Mark Hendrickson. Tomko also had extensive experience as a starter before becoming a reliever at mid-season.
Accumulating surplus starters gives Colletti ammunition to trade for an outfielder who could bat in the middle of the lineup. Penny, the National League starter in the All-Star game, is the most likely trade bait because his temper problems became tiresome to the Dodgers and he had a poor second half.
However, executives from other teams said Penny's stock has dropped to the point that it could be difficult for the Dodgers to deal him for a proven hitter unless they also include at least one top prospect. A possible trade partner could be the Toronto Blue Jays, whose general manager, J.P. Ricciardi, likes Penny. Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells has one year left on his contract and isn't likely to re-sign with Toronto, so Ricciardi could be open to trading him.
Landing Schmidt also explains why the Dodgers made only a tepid attempt to re-sign Maddux. Schmidt held the Dodgers to a .187 batting average in 14 starts against them the last three years.
"It seemed like every time we picked up the paper and saw that he was going to be pitching in our series, it wasn't really a pitcher we were looking forward to facing," Little said. "You know that when you took the field against a guy like that, he's going to be out there for a long time."
Schmidt has lost several miles an hour off his fastball and strikes out fewer batters than in previous years. But scouts say his off-speed pitches are effective and he has excellent command. He has a history of injuries but underwent a rigorous conditioning program a year ago and pitched 213 1/3 innings last season, going 11-9 with a 3.59 earned-run average.
Adding Gonzalez also could increase the Dodgers options in a trade. They could feel more comfortable trading a prospect such as Matt Kemp, Andy LaRoche, James Loney or Andre Ethier.
The Dodgers made a two-year offer to Gonzalez earlier Wednesday, but the 17-year veteran opted to take a higher salary for one year.
Gagne said during the season he would give the Dodgers a hometown discount to re-sign, but like Drew's assertion that he wouldn't opt out of his contract, those words ring somewhat hollow. Gagne's agent, Scott Boras, turned down a guaranteed one-year, $4-million Dodgers offer with incentives that could have increased the value to $10 million, a source close to the negotiations said.
Although the Dodgers don't appear willing to increase the offer, Boras plans to speak to Colletti again before Gagne signs with another team. The market for Gagne has increased to more than $5 million guaranteed, with the same kind of incentives the Dodgers are offering.
"Obviously we are meeting and talking to a lot of teams," Boras said. "But Ned and I are communicating and we will continue to talk about Eric Gagne."
Mike Lieberthal, catcher Russell Martin's new backup, wants to continue playing long after his $1.15-million contract for 2007 expires.