Los Angeles — The struggle of the defending world champion Los Angeles Dodgers to break permanently past the .500 mark this season has already triggered rumors of sweeping changes of the club's starting lineup for 1983.
These rumors would be less believable if the Dodgers didn't have a vast reservoir of talented minor league kids, several of whom are considered experienced enough for promotion to the parent club. LA has also generated additional speculation that something is in the air by its failure to begin negotiations on a new contract with first baseman Steve Garvey.
The feeling here is that the Dodgers do not want to pay Garvey, who isn't apt to settle for less than catcher Gary Carter got from Montreal, anywhere near $2 million a year, and will therefore allow Steve to become a free agent. Garvey should remain in that position only as long as it takes his agent to get Yankee owner George Steinbrenner on the phone in New York.
The Dodger farm hand with the best chance to replace Garvey next season is Mike Marshall, a power hitter who can play either first base or the outfield and who bats right-handed. Marshall was the most valuable player in the Pacific Coast League last year on the strength of a .373 batting average, 34 homers, and 137 runs batted in.
But there is also the left-handed hitting Greg Brock, not quite as advanced as Marshall and limited to first base because of his range, but with almost as much power. There is a strong possibility that Marshall will play first for LA in 1983, then move to left field in 1984 to make room for Brock.
General Manager Al Campanis is also expected to trade Ron Cey during the off-season so that he can shift right fielder Pedro Guerrero to third base. And Bill Russell may be reduced to a utility role for LA next season, if present Albuquerque shortstop Dave Anderson shows he can play the position in spring training.
In fact, the list of new regulars at Dodger Stadium could grow even longer next year if Candy Maldonado goes into right field and Campanis is able to deal for an established centerfielder with power.
Manager Tommy Lasorda's five-man starting rotation should remain the same, unless current injuries to Burt Hooton and Jerry Reuss are more serious than the Dodgers are admitting.
There's a lot of time left this season, of course, and the Dodgers could still get straightened out and win again. But no matter what happens, you can be sure that Campanis will be busy in the off-season trying to plug some of the unexpected holes that cropped up this year--and that includes looking for someone the quality of Bruce Sutter or Rollie Fingers for his bullpen.