Career Days : Edwards and Moeller Take Divergent Paths as Replacements in Dodgers' Spring Camp

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Journeyman pitcher Wayne Edwards stands at the intersection of Jackie Robinson Avenue and Roy Campanella Boulevard, pondering his baseball future. Short-term decisions carry long-term implications.

One career path leads to a quick buck. He's more familiar with a second road. It points toward sweat and hard work. There's a middle route, too.

Since spring training opened last month at Dodgertown, Edwards has been continually checking his moral compass. There's some fast money to be made--$30,000 or more--by accepting the Dodgers' offer to serve as a replacement player.

To be truthful, Edwards' career isn't exactly on the ascent and the thought of crossing the picket line of striking big-leaguers isn't completely objectionable.

Edwards, 30, stands near a sidewalk at the Dodgers' sleepy spring complex. In his head, a neon sign flashes:

Cross. Don't cross.

"I understand that I'm a fringe big-leaguer, but everybody needs guys who can go out there and do the job," said Edwards, a left-hander who spent parts of three seasons with the Chicago White Sox.

Job himself might have trouble saying no to this get-well-quick proposition if he were in Edwards' situation.

It is not an enviable position. After declining an initial offer on the issue, Edwards decided Wednesday to participate in Dodger exhibition games.

According to the Major League Players Assn., this makes Edwards, who played at Village Christian High and lives in Canyon Country, a strikebreaker. His decision was a backbreaker. He vacillated for days.

"I'm not exactly individually wealthy from when I had my big-league cup of coffee," he said.

It was a sobering week in Dodgertown. Developments arose with the sun each morning. Each night, Edwards tossed and turned regarding the issues at hand.

In a manner of speaking, he sleeps in a house divided. His roommate, former big-league left-hander Dennis Moeller, a graduate of Cleveland High, declined to play in exhibitions.

Dollar signs dance in their heads, counterbalanced by the thought of again reaching the majors through legitimate means.

The duo and many like them are caught in a tug of war between striking players and owners. Two friends in the same room with different agendas underscores the uncertainty of Spring Training, 1995.

"I need to be seen, to be evaluated," said Edwards, who is married and has two young children. "I came to realize this was a big opportunity. I need to throw."

The Dodgers started throwing around the green stuff this week. As Moeller put it, the Dodgers "definitely sweetened the pot" with incentives. It's practically a pot of gold.

After conducting a survey last month to determine which players were willing to play in exhibitions, the club again interviewed the ranks of those who declined to participate.

The first group of, well, exhibitionists must not have turned many front-office heads. The Dodgers this week told minor leaguers selected to play in exhibitions that they would receive lucrative guaranteed contracts for 1995, even if the strike is settled. Players will receive $7,000 monthly in triple A. Each player also will receive a $5,000 bonus in April.

Edwards said he is guaranteed more than $7,000 monthly in '95, but declined to outline the particulars. The season lasts six months and the typical triple-A salary is roughly $25,000. Moeller said at least one teammate was offered a guaranteed minor-league contract of $100,000.

"It wasn't the money," Edwards said. "I've been racking my brain, talking to coaches and players. I decided to do what's best for Wayne Edwards, and that's to pitch."

Had Edwards declined to play in the exhibitions, he would have pitched against lesser competition in minor-league games, staged on secondary diamonds.

"You know, you'd like to think they'd walk the extra 50 feet or whatever to see you pitch," Edwards said. "But would they?"

Moeller aspires to earn a spot with the Dodgers' triple-A club in Albuquerque, N.M. Like Edwards, he is a non-roster invitee. However, Moeller's contract isn't guaranteed and since he won't pitch in exhibitions, he'll have to earn a roster position.

Moeller and Edwards signed with the Dodgers within a 24-hour period in January. Considering the timing and the mileage on the two, some assumed the club was lining up possible replacements. Other replacement candidates in camp have similar credentials.

"I'm kind of superstitious," said Moeller, who is single and lives in Granada Hills. "My first instinct was to say no, and I'm sticking with it. But you can't help but think about it."

Moeller and Edwards are the first to admit they never ranked as hot-shot prospects. Moeller was drafted out of Valley College, Edwards from Azusa Pacific.

"Most people never thought I was good enough to play in college, much less professionally," said Edwards, a 10th-round selection of the White Sox in 1985.

Moeller, whose progress in camp has been slowed by tendinitis, was even more nondescript. He didn't make scouts salivate while at Valley, but worked his way through the Kansas City Royals' organization after he was picked in the 17th round of the 1986 draft. Moeller, quick with self-deprecating wisecracks, remains unassuming.

"I've been that way since Day One," Moeller said. "I lay in the weeds, then find my way. That's the way I like it."

In 1992, Moeller briefly reached the majors with the Royals, then was shipped to the Pittsburgh Pirates as part of a deal for second baseman Jose Lind. Moeller was impressive enough in the spring of '93 to make the opening-day roster. After that:

"I spit the bit," Moeller said.

After 10 appearances, in which he had an earned-run average of 9.92, Moeller was sent back to triple A and hasn't been in the majors since. He signed with the Dodgers on Jan. 24 as a six-year minor-league free agent.

Over the winter, Moeller stayed sharp by pitching in the Venezuelan League. Edwards spent the off-season "borrowing money and working odd jobs" while he waited for a team to call.

Edwards also has pitched in a foreign land, though more out of necessity. In 1993, after he was released by the Baltimore Orioles and no major league teams expressed interest, he pitched for the Monterrey Sultans of the Mexican League. Last season, he played for the pitching-starved Detroit Tigers' triple-A affiliate in Toledo, but was released in midseason. He was 0-1 with an unsightly ERA of 5.49.

Five years ago, Edwards' career seemed on solid ground. He was part of the 1990 White Sox staff that included four others with area ties--Jack McDowell (Notre Dame High), Scott Radinsky (Simi Valley), Eric King (Royal) and Steve Wapnick (Monroe).

Edwards spent the entire 1990 season on the big-league roster, made five starts and finished 5-3 with an ERA of 3.22. In parts of three seasons with Chicago, he was 5-5 with a solid ERA of 3.37.

When Chicago shuffled its front-office staff, though, Edwards fell out of favor. He split time between Chicago and triple A in 1991 and signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays' organization the following year.

Once Edwards agreed to play in the Dodger exhibitions, he hit the ground on the dead run. Not 24 hours later, he pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the Dodgers' exhibition opener Thursday, an 11-3 victory over the New York Yankees in Ft. Lauderdale.

Edwards and reliever Rafael Montalvo were the only Dodgers with major-league experience among the 30 who suited up. Edwards has the upper hand in experience--Montalvo appeared in one game with the Houston Astros in 1986. Edwards turns 31 on Tuesday.

"I don't have time to wait until this is resolved," Edwards said. "I need to pitch now."

There's now. There's later.

A few weeks down the road, the Dodgers will officially begin rounding up replacements for the regular season. Considering the money the team already has thrown around, inducements could be substantial.

Which-Way Wayne, Part II?

"I guess I'll worry about that crossroads when the time comes," Edwards said.

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