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Money to Burn
2003-03-17 09:23
by Jon Weisman

Having remained largely dormant in the free-agent market this past offseason, the Dodger load of salary commitments will begin to lighten after the games of 2003 are over.

Here are some names that will be off the books:
(Salary information taken from the 2003 Baseball Prospectus yearbook and this site.)

Brian Jordan: $6.5 million ($9 million salary minus $2.5 million buyout for 2004)
Hideo Nomo: $6.5 million ($8 million salary minus $1.5 million buyout for 2004)
Andy Ashby: $8 million
Fred McGriff: $3.75 million
Total: $24.75 million

Here are some names for 2004:

Todd Hundley: $6.5 million
Paul Quantrill: approximately $3 million
Paul Shuey: approximately $4 million
Total: $13.5 million

In 2005, thereŐs you-know-who:

Kevin Brown $15 million
Darren Dreifort $13 million
not to mention Shawn Green ($16 million)
Total: $44 million

Few of those players need to be resigned, and none at their current value unless NomoŐs arm truly becomes bionic, which is not going to happen. So in November 2003, the Dodgers can begin climbing out of their financial hole.

There isnŐt much point in predicting what theyŐll do before the 2003 season begins. But this weekendŐs news that the Oakland AŐs do not plan to resign shortstop Miguel Tejada figures to get a lot of people thinking. I know it got me thinking.

No big-budget team has a greater shortstop need than the Dodgers, and few need as much help from the right-side of the plate. There is talk that the Yankees would go after Tejada, perhaps moving him or Derek Jeter to third base, but my guess is that New York will be more interested in signing outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

Tejada, who will turn 27 in May, had an OPS of .861 while playing in all 162 games last year.

His EQA, which adjusts for park effects and such, was .297 (against a major-league average of .260). By comparison, Alex Rodriguez, who is 27 now, had an EQA of .334 in 2002 in 162 games. Alex Cora, also 27, had an EQA of .291 in much more limited playing time in 2002.

Let me state unequivocally that despite the similarity in EQA to CoraŐs, Tejada would strengthen the Dodgers immeasurably. ItŐs almost embarrassing to put Tejada and Cora in the same sentence.

But I do so for a reason. This fall, the Dodgers will have some salary breathing room for the first time in a while. They must resist the temptation, compounded by the caterwauling from fans, to be so enthralled with a free agent that they overpay, and start the cycle of salary imprisonment all over again.

Yes, they can take a bit of the risk that marked the late 1990s, but they should also retain a bit of the conservatism that marked 2002.

Tejada has power. He plays the toughest defensive position on the field. But although he hit for average (.308) last year, he needs to prove he can do it again. And he doesnŐt walk. He could be awesome, or he could be Raul Mondesi.

Tejada deserves a contract that accounts for this current financial era and that accounts for his limitations as well as his strengths.

To the Dodgers and to their fans: When youŐre thinking about the Dodgers of the future, stay cool, stay calm, stay rational.

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