12/19/05 11:45 PM ET
Dodgers welcome Nomar to LA
General manager Colletti continues offseason overhaul
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
The Dodgers general manager's Christmas shopping spree resulted in Nomar Garciaparra's introduction at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
"Pulling into the stadium, all my childhood memories hit me," said the native Angeleno, accompanied to the event by soccer star wife Mia Hamm. "That really put me over the top. This is where I want to be."
But the former Red Sox shortstop, signed to be the new Dodgers first baseman and No. 5 hitter for a $6 million contract plus incentives, isn't the newest acquisition.
That will be Kenny Lofton, whose signing to a one-year, $3.85 million contract to be the center fielder and No. 2 hitter is expected to be announced on Tuesday.
The Dodgers are practically on a player-a-day pace with their second roster overhaul in as many winters. Derek Lowe, one of last year's additions now reunited with former Boston teammates Garciaparra and Bill Mueller and former manager Grady Little, is giving Colletti and the Dodgers front office two thumbs-up (blister not included).
"The bottom line is, they're doing a tremendous job of getting guys," said Lowe, who said he attended Garciaparra's press conference as a show of support.
"We're getting baseball guys. These guys are winners and they wanted to come here, to play for Grady. It's made us better. Sure, it's hard to have that much turnover and you hope it stops. You don't want to have to keep opening the program, wondering, 'Who are these guys?' But, the difference from two months ago to now is truly tremendous to see. I'm in full support of what they've done."
Garciaparra tried to become a Dodger a winter ago, but went to the Cubs instead for $8.25 million while the Dodgers settled at third base for Jose Valentin at $3.5 million. Both struggled through injuries this past season.
But Garciaparra returned from a torn groin muscle to play the last six weeks at shortstop and third base for the Cubs, proof that his injury was healed. He said he's ready to learn to play first base, which he hasn't done since Little League, and that he likes the changes Colletti has made to a club that lost 91 games in 2005.
"This team can definitely win," said Garciaparra, who played for Little in Boston but was traded away three months before the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. "I'm a small part of the puzzle."
The Dodgers think he's a big part, and that's why he's the one they acquired to protect Jeff Kent in the lineup. Garciaparra is a five-time All-Star and two-time batting champ. He has a .320 lifetime batting average, but he's missed considerable playing time in three of the last five seasons because of injuries to his wrist, Achilles tendon and groin muscle.
Growing up a Southern California baseball fan in suburban Whittier, Garciaparra said choosing the Dodgers over the Yankees, Astros and Indians became easy after two meetings with management last week.
"It's tremendous to be able to come home," he said. "What a thrill it will be to put on the uniform. This is where I saw my first big-league game. I remember getting a French dip sandwich at Phillipes. I remember my dad bringing me, I remember my parents going to the World Series. I knew all the players and positions."
That's no easy feat nowadays and more changes are on tap. Tuesday is the deadline to tender contracts and the Dodgers have a pair of arbitration-eligible former starters who are out of jobs. The club is not expected to tender a contract to catcher Jason Phillips and could choose the same route with first baseman Hee-Seop Choi.
Garciaparra's arrival makes Choi expendable, but because of his power and youth, the Dodgers are trying to sign him to a salary considerably below what he could earn through arbitration. If he does not agree, Choi would probably non-tender him and make him a free agent.
Meanwhile, the addition of Garciaparra and Lofton leaves only a starting pitcher on Colletti's wish list. Assuming Jeff Weaver rejects salary arbitration by Monday's deadline, Colletti can try to find one on the picked-over list of free agents or through a trade.
Garciaparra's signing presents an even stickier situation for when Cesar Izturis returns from elbow surgery, estimated to be at mid-season. If Mueller, Rafael Furcal, Kent and Garciaparra are healthy and performing well around the horn, there will be nowhere for Izturis to play.
Izturis' injury, however, is complicated. Not only has he had Tommy John reconstruction to repair a damaged ligament, but it was caused by a degenerative bone disease. The long-term prognosis is uncertain, which was a factor in the acquisition of Furcal. Colletti said he spoke to Izturis on Monday, and asked him to keep an open mind about his future role.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.