The Dodgers finally loosened the lock on their prize prospects, picking up short relief for the short term and sending an unmistakable message to anyone who hasn't gotten it already.
By acquiring Danys Baez and Lance Carter from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany on Saturday, General Manager Ned Colletti again made it clear he wants a championship team in 2006.
"I can't sit around and wait," he said. "I want the Dodgers to win now."
Colletti's whirlwind of wheeling and dealing since taking the job two months ago has resulted in five free-agent signings and the acquisition of four pitchers via trade. This time he picked up a top reliever in Baez, who saved 41 games and was an All-Star last season.
He will be Eric Gagne's primary setup man and serve as insurance in case Gagne doesn't recover from the elbow injury that restricted him to 14 appearances in 2005.
"We've got one of the all-time best closers in Eric, and I thought we needed more support for him," Colletti said. "Without a strong bullpen, you are going to struggle most days."
Dodger trainer Stan Johnston said Gagne's recovery from his June surgery has gone well and that he will be ready for spring training. Colletti said he has no plans to trade Gagne, who is under contract for one more season at $10 million, or Baez, who will make $4 million in the last year of his deal.
"I don't have any information that leads me to believe Eric will not be healthy," Colletti said. "He gave me every indication he was feeling great and is looking forward to being back to where he was in 2004.
"Baez can close on a day when Eric has been out there two or three days in a row. There is strength in numbers."
Carter, 31, has been a solid setup reliever since losing the Devil Ray closer job to Baez, 28, two years ago. Both will help fill the void left by departed Dodger relievers Duaner Sanchez, Giovanni Carrara, Steve Schmoll, Wilson Alvarez and Elmer Dessens.
The Dodgers also will receive an undisclosed amount of cash or a minor leaguer in the deal.
Although Colletti has said starting pitchers are generally more valuable than relievers, he gave up two starters in Jackson, 22, and Tiffany, 20, who were among the group of Dodger minor leaguers coveted by opposing teams.
Jackson had been considered the team's top pitching prospect until last season. However, since out-dueling Randy Johnson in a memorable game near the end of the 2003 season, he has posted some frightful earned-run averages -- 9.28 in 2004 spring training; 7.30 with the Dodgers in 2004; 8.79 in 2005 spring training; 8.62 at triple-A Las Vegas in 2005; and 6.28 with the Dodgers in 2005.
"I'm not disappointed," Jackson said of the trade. "I'm not mad at anyone. As far as I'm concerned, it's a new start and a clean slate."
Tiffany, who grew up in Covina and has been a lifelong Dodger fan, tempered his disappointment with the realization he might get to the big leagues faster with Tampa Bay. The left-hander was 11-7 with 134 strikeouts in 110 innings at Class-A Vero Beach last season.
"I was shocked at first and the Dodgers were nothing but good to me, but it's another opportunity," he said.
Trade talks between the Dodgers and the Devil Rays began weeks ago when the New York Mets tried to acquire Baez and the Dodgers sought Met starter Jae Seo. Colletti was able to trade for Seo without involving Tampa Bay, and he recognized an opportunity when the Mets wouldn't part with pitcher Aaron Heilman for Baez.
Baez said he didn't want to be a setup man when it appeared he might be traded to the Mets -- who already have star closer Billy Wagner. Colletti got a different impression in a conversation with him Saturday.
"He knows we have Gagne and he said he wants to be on a team that wins a lot of games," Colletti said. "He knows it's a long season, there will be twists and turns in it, and he's ready to do whatever it takes."
The Dodgers signed starting pitcher Aaron Sele, 35, to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. Sele was 6-12 with a 5.66 ERA for the Seattle Mariners last season.
Minor league pitcher Joel Hanrahan was designated for assignment to make room for Baez and Carter on the 40-man roster.
Six Dodger prospects not on the 40-man roster have been invited to major league spring training: pitchers Chad Billingsley, Justin Orenduff and Eric Stults; outfielder Matt Kemp, second baseman Tony Abreu and catcher Edwin Bellorin.
Nomar Garciaparra, who signed a one-year contract with the Dodgers in December, will play first base for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Although he grew up in Whittier, he qualifies for the Mexican team because of his parents' nationality. Colletti said Garciaparra plans to report to spring training early with Dodger pitchers and catchers before leaving for the international tournament.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
The Dodgers acquired relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter from Tampa Bay for pitching prospects Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany.
*--* DANYS BAEZ
* Went 5-4 with a 2.86 ERA and a career-best 41 saves last season, earning a spot on the AL All-Star team.
* Has 96 saves over the last three seasons.
* Age: 28
*--* LANCE CARTER
* Named to the AL All-Star team in 2003 when he had a career-high 26 saves in 62 appearances.
* Appeared in 39 games last season, going 1-2 with a 4.89 ERA in 57 innings.
* Age: 31
*--* EDWIN JACKSON
* Appeared in 19 games for the Dodgers over the past three seasons, going 6-4 with a 5.50 ERA.
* Was a combined 9-11 with a 5.91 ERA for double-A Jacksonville and triple-A Las Vegas before going 2-2 with a 6.28 ERA for the Dodgers.
* Age: 22
*--* CHUCK TIFFANY
.* Went 11-7 with a 3.93 ERA and 134 strikeouts for Class-A Vero Beach last season.
* Has an 16-9 record in three pro seasons with a 3.90 ERA and 279 strikeouts.
* Age: 20