DODGERS : The Future May Not Be Now for Offerman


The whispers began in the fourth spring game, when Jose Offerman dropped a relatively easy throw from Gary Carter to give the Montreal Expos a stolen base.

The whispers increased in the sixth game, when Offerman threw a potential double play grounder into the dugout against the New York Yankees.

After botching two grounders against the Houston Astros last weekend, Offerman now hears the whispers as if they were shouts:


The kid isn’t ready.

In what is quietly becoming one of the surprise stories of spring training, Jose Offerman suddenly is closer to triple-A Albuquerque than to the Dodgers’ starting lineup.

If he isn’t in Albuquerque already.

“Jose is the shortstop of the future,” Dodger Vice President Fred Claire said. “The question is, when does that future begin?”

It was supposed to begin this month. Shortstop was Offerman’s to lose.

Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda confirmed that last October at a ceremony honoring Offerman as the Sporting News’ minor league player of the year.

“As of now, this young man is our starting shortstop,” Lasorda said then.

Today, Lasorda is not so adamant. He will say only, “We’ll take the best man for the job.”

Halfway through the exhibition schedule, most club personnel say that man is Alfredo Griffin, who is playing with an aching back that doctors say will not improve.

Griffin has not been spectacular, batting only .211 and making no play-of-the-week catches. But the Dodgers don’t want spectacular , they want solid , and Griffin has made only one error in nine starts.

Offerman, while batting .333, has made four errors in six starts. He has not made the easy play look easy. He has not responded to advice that he charge more balls and work on his balance.


The Dodgers probably would not keep Offerman in Los Angeles if he could not start, meaning he would return to Albuquerque for a second season.

Thursday, he shrugged and said he would not question the move.

“If they tell me to go there, I go there and play hard, just like last year,” said Offerman, who batted .326 in Albuquerque. “I will work every day and wait for my chance.

“I think I can play now, but I will do whatever they say, because I know I can play when I get my chance.”

Not that the Dodgers didn’t worry this might happen: Offerman signed a split contract this winter that will pay him $115,000 if he makes the major leagues but $36,000 if he doesn’t.

He will have a good chance to change minds this weekend when he will start two games against the Oakland Athletics in the Superdome in New Orleans.

“The more I play, the more I will show them,” Offerman said.

Griffin agrees that Offerman will improve. But for now, Griffin is making people remember him.


“I know I am not young; I know Offerman will be the shortstop here for a long time,” Griffin, 34, said. “But right now, I am playing with a lot of spirit. I keep hearing everybody tell me, ‘You got no job,’ and I want to prove them wrong. I want to show the Dodgers what I can still do.”

Because of worry about Griffin’s physical condition, several veteran members of the Dodgers are wondering whether Claire will trade for a shortstop. Among names mentioned as possibilities are Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals and Spike Owen of the Montreal Expos.

“There has been a lot of talk about us bringing somebody in to play shortstop, but there is no substance to that talk,” Claire said Thursday. “We have our shortstop of the future right here.”

One of the Dodgers’ most exciting players this spring is also one of the unhappiest.

“I am really, really down,” Jose Gonzalez said. “All I can think about is, what are they going to do with me? How come they won’t trade me?”

Gonzalez, who asked to be traded last season when it was obvious the Dodgers didn’t consider him a starting outfielder, has come to two realizations.

The Dodgers place too much value on him as an extra outfielder to trade him for nothing, as they did Franklin Stubbs last spring, but because he does not have a chance to play every day, few teams will make an attractive offer.


“So I’m stuck here, where nothing I do seems to matter,” said Gonzalez, who is hitting .333. “There is no room for me, yet they will not let me go. It is amazing to me. It is very hard to understand.”

Gonzalez said he never has felt better at the plate. He said he feels he has matured as a hitter and as a fielder.

“I am not the same player I was a few years ago,” said Gonzalez, who played with the Dodgers for parts of five seasons before finally playing a full summer in Los Angeles last year. “I am understanding how to hit with two strikes. I am watching the ball better. I am handling myself better. It is a big change for me.”

He paused. “But for what? They still have no confidence in me. So why won’t they trade me?”

“Jose has a role on this club. He served the role well last year. Even if it isn’t necessarily the role he wants, it’s a role nonetheless,” Claire said. “He helps us.”

Dodger Notes

Catcher Mike Scioscia gave the Dodgers a scare Thursday when he limped off the field after sliding into second base on a fifth-inning double against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Petersburg, Fla. He irritated his inflamed right arch, a problem he has had for several weeks. He could be back in the lineup as soon as today. . . . A Dodger split squad lost to the Cardinals, 2-0, in a game that marked Ramon Martinez’s first good outing of the spring. Martinez allowed one run in five innings. . . . Kevin Gross is scheduled to start for the Dodgers in tonight’s game against the Oakland Athletics at the Superdome in New Orleans at 5:30, PST, and Tim Belcher will start Saturday. . . . Orel Hershiser threw about 90 long tosses Thursday, the second consecutive day he has played catch after irritating his arm and slowing his rehabilitation last week. He said the shoulder still felt good.