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Holdout Howell Asks for a Trade : Dodgers: Reliever is dissatisfied that club will not extend his contract.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jay Howell has shown the depth of his dissatisfaction with the Dodgers by requesting a trade, his agent confirmed Monday.

Howell, the Dodgers’ top returning relief pitcher, has been holding out since spring training began Friday, even though he has one year remaining on a three-year contract that pays him $1.05 million this season.

He is upset with his contract and his working conditions.

“We’ve been talking with the Dodgers about trading him for a while,” said Steve Comte, Howell’s Oakland-based agent. “Like anybody, Jay wants to play where he is appreciated. If he is going to put his career at risk as he has done in the past couple of years, he wants to do it where people recognize his accomplishments.

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“He obviously can’t do that with the Dodgers. We asked for a trade and (Dodger vice president) Fred Claire said he would see what he could do.”

Howell was not answering the phone at his Atlanta home Monday, probably because he was traveling to Vero Beach, where sources say he could begin working out today or Wednesday.

“When he gets there, he’ll be all business,” Comte said. “But in the beginning, it may not be too pretty. He is going to vocalize his concerns. It may get a little rough.”

Claire said he was not inclined to immediately act upon the trade request. However, sources say he nearly traded Howell to Atlanta for pitcher John Smoltz last season.

“I am obligated to do what is best for the team, and right now, Jay is an important member of this team,” said Claire, who is counting on Howell as one of the strengths in a uncertain bullpen. “Early in spring training is not the time to make moves. That time has passed. This is the time to get ready for the season, and we are confident Jay will be ready.”

Claire said he didn’t worry about Howell’s unhappiness causing problems in the clubhouse.

“We had a similar situation last year with Kirk Gibson, who had requested a trade,” Claire said. “The trade didn’t take place, but Kirk was not a detriment to the team the rest of the year. Jay is a professional, and I know he will continue to work hard.”

Tom Lasorda, Dodger manager, was more blunt in his assessment of the request.

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“It is up to the general manager to make a trade decision, but you can be assured of one thing--we do not trade players just because they want to be traded,” Lasorda said. “He has a signed contract, and he should honor that contract.”

Howell is upset that he is not only the lowest paid veteran bullpen ace in the National League, but the 11th highest paid player on the Dodgers, despite setting a club record with 28 saves in 1989. Howell is making nearly $700,000 less than Jim Gott, his setup man.

And that, he reportedly feels, is the least of his problems.

He is also reportedly upset because a request for a contract extension this winter was denied.

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Because he is 35 and entering this 10th season, he was looking for security that he felt he earned by appearing in 151 games in the last three years despite surgeries on his elbow and knee.

He was especially irked last summer, when he reportedly felt overuse after a knee injury contributed to his 66.7 save percentage, second lowest in the league. He had 16 saves but blew eight other opportunities.

His problems began when he was rushed back from April 24 knee surgery, missing only 21 games. An erratic bullpen and extra-inning games helped force his appearance in five of the next 14 games. During that time he went 0-2 with a 4.05 earned-run average while aggravating his knee.

“The guy does the job day in and day out whether he is 100% or not,” Comte said. “Last year a lot of guys would not have gone out there nearly as early. He felt the team needed him, and the team obviously responded to him in the second half.

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“We’re not asking to re-do something or change anything. We’re just asking the Dodgers to do what a lot of clubs have been doing to show appreciation for their major players.”

Claire, however, has steadfastly refused to negotiate contract extensions before a player’s final season.

“We have several players in the same situation as Jay, and we have not spoken to any of them about new contracts,” Claire said earlier. “We do not have an interest in doing that at this time. . . . The evaluation of this season is certainly important to that.”

The agent for the other Dodger holdout, Ramon Martinez, that the pitcher may be digging in for a long absence that could involve a legal battle over a contract renewal.

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“Ramon is not going to show up tomorrow, or the next day,” said Jim Bronner Monday from his Chicago-area office. “He is prepared to sit out until he has a negotiated contract. He understands all the ramifications. He understands what March 6 (the mandatory reporting date for all players) means. He is still sitting out.”

The Dodger have offered Martinez $400,000, a 167% raise from last season, when he went 20-6 with a 2.92 ERA. Martinez is looking for more than $500,000, but the Dodgers are not budging, saying their offer is already the highest in baseball history for a player with less than two full years of experience.

Claire indicated he probably will renew Martinez’ contract on March 2, the earliest date for renewal of all players with less than three full years of experience.

Dodger Notes

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Darryl Strawberry arrived at Dodgertown Monday morning and will report to camp today, one day ahead of schedule. . . . Despite four days of strong workouts, Jeff Hamilton reported Monday that his surgically repaired right shoulder felt ‘dead.’ Hamilton said he thinks the shoulder is just tired from overuse.


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