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Dodgers throw in with Wells

Team reaches tentative deal with 44-year-old pitcher, who struggled for San Diego. Given its rotation problems, L.A. has little to lose.

August 24, 2007|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Frustrated in their attempts to trade for a proven starter, the Dodgers addressed their troubled pitching situation Thursday by reaching a tentative contract agreement with free agent David Wells.

Wells, who is expected to join the team in New York today, will replace right-hander Brett Tomko in the Dodgers rotation, perhaps as early as Sunday night at Shea Stadium.

Speaking through a team spokesman, General Manager Ned Colletti declined to comment, saying the team "had nothing to announce" since Wells has not yet signed a contract. But that's likely to happen this morning.

"Pitching in a wild-card race is a situation that's perfect for him," said Gregg Clifton, Wells' agent. "He's going to be pitching in a big game in every game."

Signing the 44-year-old left-hander, released by San Diego on Aug. 9, is a gamble for the Dodgers since Wells is 4-7 with a 5.62 ERA in the second half the last two seasons. But it's a cheap gamble because the Dodgers are required to pay only $80,000 of the $1 million left on his guaranteed contract, with the Padres picking up the rest.

Wells was designated for assignment Aug. 9 and placed on waivers four days later. He cleared waivers last week, leaving him free to sign with any team, though he was known to prefer a playoff contender on the West Coast.

The sticking point in what became protracted talks between the Dodgers and Wells was a series of incentives in his one-year deal with San Diego that could have earned the pitcher an additional $1.3 million. Those demands, which include a $176,470 salary bonus for each of his next five starts, apparently knocked Colorado out of the running for Wells last week, with the Rockies eventually signing left-hander Mark Redman over the weekend.

On Thursday, however, the Dodgers reportedly acquiesced to performance-based bonuses nearly identical to those in his Padres contract, although exact terms of the agreement were not announced.

Wells does come with some baggage, though, since he still has a seven-game suspension to serve, the result of an early July run-in with plate umpire Ed Hickox in San Diego, just the latest in a series of suspensions Wells has piled up in his career. That suspension is being appealed, however, and according to a spokesman for the players' union, Wells can play until the appeal is heard. That's unlikely to happen until early September.

Wells, who will be pitching for his ninth team in 21 big league seasons, hasn't appeared in a game since Aug. 6 and hasn't won since holding the Mets to a run in six innings on July 16. But Tomko hasn't won since then either, falling to 2-11 with a 5.80 ERA after Tuesday's loss in Philadelphia.

"This little bit of a hiatus might be good for him," Clifton said of Wells.

The Dodgers, who broke spring training with four former All-Stars in their rotation, have seen what was expected to be one of baseball's best pitching staffs become decimated by injuries. Jason Schmidt, who made just six starts, hasn't pitched in more than two months and left-hander Randy Wolf has been out since the first week of July.

That's forced the Dodgers to bring 23-year-old Chad Billingsley out of the bullpen to fill one spot. They've also given Tomko and left-hander Mark Hendrickson lengthy trials. Rookie Eric Stults has gotten two starts and left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo six before he went down with an elbow problem that required surgery.

With the exception of Billingsley, none has been consistently successful with Tomko, Hendrickson and Kuo combining to go 6-20 with a 5.98 ERA and 219 hits allowed in 183 2/3 innings as starters.

So while Wells may not be the answer -- he gave up 26 runs in his final 16 2/3 innings with San Diego, leaving him 5-8 with a 5.54 ERA -- he doesn't have to be very good to be better than what the Dodgers have to choose from. Plus, he did pitch well earlier this season, going 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA through mid-July.

A three-time All-Star who led the American League in wins in 2000, Wells has 235 victories in a 21-year career, leaving him one short of Whitey Ford for 12th all-time among left-handers. He's also pitched in 27 postseason games, winning an American League Championship Series MVP award in 1998 and earning World Series rings with the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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