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Goal is same on both coasts

Bill Shaikin | SUNDAY REPORT

April 06, 2008|Bill Shaikin

They had quite a run together, the kindly old manager and his kid boss -- that's boss with a small "b." Joe Torre and Brian Cashman ran the New York Yankees together for a decade, smiling in World Series championship parades, shrugging off bellicose challenges issued in statements under the name of Boss George Steinbrenner.

Cashman was 31 when Steinbrenner tapped him as the Yankees' general manager in 1998. For the first time, Cashman's manager is someone other than Torre, but a deep friendship cultivated over so many years did not evaporate when Torre joined the Dodgers.

"I just hung up with him five minutes ago," Cashman said from his New York office last week.

The men could meet again in October, a World Series story line waiting to happen. Certainly, the Steinbrenners and the McCourts have put up the money for a winner: The Yankees' payroll tops the American League, the Dodgers' payroll ranks second in the National League, behind the New York Mets.

Yet for all those bucks -- $209 million for the Yankees, $119 million for the Dodgers -- the playoff fate of both major-market franchises rests largely with kids each making less money than Dodgers pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.

The Yankees' pitching depends on Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain. The Dodgers' offense depends on Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin, Andre Ethier and maybe Andy LaRoche or Blake DeWitt.

The Dodgers have entrusted their kids, and their season, to Torre.

"He's a great leader," Cashman said. "But you have to have the horses to lead. I know from afar the Dodgers have a lot of young stallions ready to take that next step. If they're looking to take that next step and learn about winning, they couldn't have picked a better person to lead them."

To the point that Torre tends to prefer veterans, Cashman offers this counterpoint: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.

"Those four alone were hatched under the watchful eye of Joe Torre," Cashman said, "and they've grown into incredible, historical figures."

Torre arrived in L.A. to choreographed pageantry that evoked a sense of savior more than manager. He bluntly dismisses the notion that he is the missing link, the magic link, between the Dodgers and a return to glory.

"It's not that easy," Torre said. "My job here is pretty simple. I come from a place where we've been successful -- playoffs every year, six World Series. It gives you an advantage. When you say something, people will listen."

The Dodgers are blessed with a young core -- all those position players, and pitchers Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton and Clayton Kershaw too -- that could lead to the kind of run Jeter and Co. enjoyed in New York. Maybe this year, maybe next year or . . .

"It's time to win," Dodgers owner Frank McCourt said when he arrived at spring training last month.

That did not sound like the voice of patience. Torre just got here, and McCourt spent the money, so that sounded as if McCourt put General Manager Ned Colletti on the hot seat.

But no, McCourt said, that was not a win-or-else ultimatum.

"It's not about that," he said. "It's about this organization getting back to a place where we're competitive each and every year."

To his credit, McCourt did not object when Torre put Juan Pierre and his $44-million contract on the bench. Colletti has issued five free-agent contracts of at least $35 million, and the scorecard so far: one up (Rafael Furcal), two down (Pierre and Jason Schmidt) and two new (Andruw Jones and Hiroki Kuroda).

"There's no guarantees," McCourt said. "Everybody's working hard, Ned in particular, to bring the best possible players to the Dodgers. There's no crystal ball. You take a chance. You do due diligence. You make choices knowing they're not all going to work out."

McCourt said he supported Colletti when the Dodgers opted against trading four young players for Johan Santana or Miguel Cabrera.

"We were totally in sync," McCourt said. "It was way too big a price to pay to bring some of the names you mentioned into this organization.

"That would be, in my mind, putting much more emphasis on right now at the expense of the future. We don't want to be out of balance on that."

That could have been Cashman talking. When the Yankees' new Boss, Hank Steinbrenner, wanted to trade multiple kid pitchers for Santana, Cashman stood firm and said no.

If Santana wins 20 games for the Mets and the kid pitchers struggle for the Yankees, Steinbrenner might mention that a time or two.

Cashman's contract expires at the end of the season. He grew up a Dodgers fan in Kentucky, even served as a Dodgers batboy one spring in Vero Beach. If Jones and Kuroda flop this summer, maybe McCourt takes a run at Cashman this fall.

But that is not the script for the Dodgers' 50th anniversary celebration. This is: Kemp facing Chamberlain in the World Series, Torre and Jeter in opposite dugouts, Cashman and Colletti celebrating with rings, and contract extensions.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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