Figuring they may never again see a former 34-save relief pitcher on sale for less than the national debt, the Dodgers gambled Thursday by signing Pittsburgh's sore-elbowed Jim Gott to a contract with terms based largely on his health.
In the Dodgers' first move of the winter, Executive Vice President Fred Claire signed Gott to a deal that guarantees him only $300,000, with of salary cap of $1 million if he stays healthy most of the season.
Gott, a right-hander from San Marino, missed virtually all of 1988 after elbow surgery to repair a torn ligament. By opening day in 1990, he will have pitched only one official game in 18 months. He gives the Dodgers six players who will enter next spring coming off surgery.
"We believe he is healthy," Claire said.
After spending last summer in rehabilitation, Gott was able to throw 75 pitches per outing in this fall's Instructional League. He was given approval from team physician Frank Jobe in a presigning examination on Thursday.
"It feels great, it really does," said Gott, 30, of the elbow. "I know it will be tough in spring training, but I've been through this before (with an earlier shoulder injury). I understand what happens in rehabilitation. I can handle it. I'm going to be fine."
Still remembering Gott's splendid 1988 season, when he finished second in the National League with 34 saves and 59 games finished, the Dodgers figure he has a chance to regain that form.
Claire completed the signing shortly after boarding a flight that took him from the winter meetings back to Los Angeles after a week in which the Dodgers could neither make a deal nor sign their top free agent, Fernando Valenzuela.
Claire: "We have three important months to change all that."
Gott, while perhaps an unusual step, is a first step nonetheless.
"We're placing a belief in him, and he's showing a belief in himself," Claire said.
Said Gott's agent, Jim Bronner: "He's making a lot of sacrifices with this contract. But he wants to play with the Dodgers."
Neither the Dodgers nor Gott realized how much they wanted each other until Wednesday afternoon, when Dodger officials agreed to sign Gott just as Bronner was leaving the hotel to return to his Chicago offices. Bronner was chased down in the parking lot, discussions were held, Gott was contacted, and the deal was sealed Thursday afternoon.
Gott had inquiries from the Seattle Mariners and the Toronto Blue Jays and a similar offer from Pittsburgh. But the Pirates didn't offer him arbitration in case they couldn't come to terms, a common exercise for teams that want to keep their free agents.
"It's going to be very hard to leave there; my best friends are there," Gott said of Pittsburgh. "But at this point, I have to look at the long haul. The Dodgers have a reputation for being great at rehabilitating pitchers. They seemed more sensitive to me than other teams."
In eight major league seasons with three teams, Gott is 35-48 with a 4.17 earned-run average. He has only 50 saves, but 47 have come since 1987, when the San Francisco Giants converted him into a reliever, before placing him on waivers that August. He was picked up by Pittsburgh and had 13 saves in 25 games in the season's final two months, before starring in 1988.
Gott will join stopper Jay Howell and middle reliever Alejandro Pena as the Dodgers' three solid right-handed relievers.