Shape-up time for Dodgers, baseball's reigning champs
| Vero Beach, Fla.
Unlike most major league managers, Tom Lasorda of the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers has few problems and is not here primarily to settle on his team's starting lineup.
Basically Lasorda has two goals: to forestall any kind of complacency among his players, and to make sure everyone leaves here in shape for the 162-game schedule.
The fact that National League Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela is a holdout is something Tom knows he must work around for now, because salary disputes are a front office responsibility.
The latest on the negotiations is that Fernando's agents, Tony DeMarco and attorney Dick Moss, have reduced their demands from $1.4 million a year to $850, 000.
While owner Peter O'Malley hasn't said this, everybody knows he can't pay that kind of money to Valenzuela without starting a financial war with 24 other players, none of whom is even close to that figure.
The Dodgers are also aware that Fernando, after an 8-0 start and 0.50 earned run average in the first half of 1981, was only 5-7 with a 3.68 ERA when play resumed after the strike, although he did pitch well in the playoffs and World Series. L.A. is believed to be offering about $350,000, up from a base salary of
The strength of the Dodgers in any event figures to be their pitching, with four established starters in Jerry Reuss, Burt Hooton, Bob Welch and Valenzuela (assuming he comes to terms), plus a deep bullpen.
Even before Valenzuela's holdout, General Manager Al Campanis was trying to trade for a veteran fifth starter -- with particular interest in ex-Dodger and current Pittsburgh Pirate right-hander Rick Rhoden. If that deal or another for a starter isn't made, Dave Stewart or Ted Power will probably be worked into the rotation.
Once again the bullpen will be anchored by hard-throwing left-hander Steve Howe, who had a team-high eight saves last year.
Joining Howe will be youngsters Tom Niedenfuer and Alejandro Pena, who pitched so well down the stretch last year, plus veteran Terry Forster, whose throwing arm is still suspect after a series of injuries.
The infield has Steve Garvey at first base; rookie Steve Sax at second, replacing the traded Davey Lopes; Ron Cey at third; and Bill Russell at shortstop. Mike Scioscia and Steve Yeager will do the catching.
The feeling here is that even though Lopes's speed may be missed on the bases , the Dodgers picked the right time to get rid of a player who tied a World Series record with six errors and has been going downhill for two years.
Sax is a fine young line-drive hitter who led the Texas League with a .346 average last year. He knows the strike zone well enough to have walked 36 times in 31 late-season games with L. A. Defensively, he needs only experience to establish himself as one of the league's better glove men.
The starting outfield will probably have Dusty Baker in left, Ken Landreaux in center, and Pedro Guerrero in right.
Landreaux is there mostly because the Dodgers prefer Ken's defense to that of Guerrero. Pedro has a habit of turning the wrong way sometimes on deeply hit balls, and while he usually recovers in time to make the catch, he is often off-balance when returning the ball to the infield. In those few seconds, it sometimes becomes possible for a runner to take an extra base.
If Landreaux stops hitting or shows signs of fatigue, as he did partway through last season, look for Guerrero to move to center, with Jorge Orta playing right.
Orta, obtained in an off-season trade with the Cleveland Indians, is a clever left-handed hitter who has twice batted over .300 in the big leagues. Jorge can also play second or third base or pinch-hit.
The Dodgers have two excellent pinch-hitters in Rick Monday and Jay Johnstone; a great backup at shortstop for Russell in ex-Oriole Mark Belanger; and a valuable all-around utility man in Derrel Thomas, who saw action last year at every position except pitcher, catcher, and first base.
Then there is Mike Marshall, an outstanding rookie first baseman who could probably start for many teams. Mike was the Pacific Coast League's triple crown winner last year with a .373 batting average, 34 homers, and 137 RBIs. The problem is that he plays the same position as Garvey, but he may be flexible enough to have a shot as an outfielder.
In Lasorda, Campanis says the Dodgers now have one of the game's best managers.
''Tommy has become more of a chess player with his personnel than he used to be, and that's good,'' Al said. ''He has learned how to delegate authority; he knows when to replace a tired pitcher with a fresh one; and he continues to be a fiery competitor. In my opinion, Lasorda has become an outstanding strategist and I think he proved this during the World Series, when we came back to beat the Yankees four straight after losing games 1 and 2.''