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Dodgers Get Blowers for 2 Minor Leaguers : Baseball: Acquisition of Seattle third baseman is first step in rebuilding infield.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As bulldozers prepared the Dodger Stadium playing surface Wednesday for installation of a state-of-the-art irrigation and sod system, vice president Fred Claire began to rebuild the infield in other ways.

He traded for third baseman Mike Blowers of the Seattle Mariners, who will replace Tim Wallach, and closed in on a contract agreement with free agent shortstop Greg Gagne, who would replace Jose Offerman.

Claire refused to comment on the Gagne negotiations, but sources said it is close to a done deal, although the 34-year-old defensive specialist, coming off a three-year, $10.7 million contract with the Kansas City Royals, is still receiving overtures from the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies.

The Dodgers traded two minor league infielders who did not figure in the club’s future--Willie Otanez, 22, and Miguel Cairo, 21--for Blowers, who enjoyed what Claire called a “breakthrough season” as the Mariners won the American League West.

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At 30, after three seasons with the New York Yankees and three more with the Mariners in part-time roles, Blowers had career highs for home runs (23), doubles (24) and runs batted in (96) while hitting .257 with 128 strikeouts in 439 at-bats.

He tied a major league record for grand slams in a month, hitting three in August when he joined Jay Buhner and others in helping to pick up the slack for the injured Ken Griffey Jr., and ignited the comeback that enabled the Mariners to overcome the Angels’ 13 game lead in the West.

“I think I showed everybody in the league that I can come through in big situations,” Blowers said of his contributions down the stretch.

“I always felt my numbers would be very good if I had the opportunity to play every day, and I think I’ll continue to grow if I continue to get that opportunity.”

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Currently on a golf vacation in Palm Springs, Blowers said that as a key component in Seattle’s baseball renaissance and a longtime Seattle resident, he was initially disappointed by news of the trade. But the more he thought about it, Blowers said, the more excited he became.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Dodgers,” he said. “If I had to be traded I couldn’t think of a better place.”

Blowers made a modest $500,000 last season but is eligible for arbitration. His salary could go to $2 million or more. The Mariners, attempting to maintain a $34 million budget and already committed to paying Griffey, Buhner, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Chris Bosio and Greg Hibbard about $29 million next season, didn’t feel they could take the arbitration risk with both Blowers and Tino Martinez, who is coming off a comparably big season but may be traded soon to the Yankees.

“With the type numbers involved,” Blowers said of the economics, “I knew that once the Mariners picked up the option on Edgar Martinez and the rumors started about Tino being traded, I might be traded as well. The only thing that surprises me is that it happened so soon.”

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Lee Pelekoudas, Seattle’s director of baseball administration, said finances are a hard reality with the Mariners, but “we felt we could make this move without depleting our nucleus or competitiveness.”

The Mariners are planning on a platoon of Doug Strange and Luis Sojo at third, with the touted Alex Rodriguez replacing Sojo at shortstop.

Mel Didier, the Dodger special assignment scout, described Blowers as a “hard-nosed, team-oriented guy” who will add power to the Dodger lineup and has continued to improve at third base. Blowers made 16 errors last year and “should be better” on a natural playing surface, which does not require the quickness of the Kingdome’s synthetic field, Didier said.

The Dodgers, of course, hope the changes in field surface and personnel will help improve the National League’s worst defense, although the decision to replace Wallach stemmed from his uncertain physical status.

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Claire said he was unable to reach Wallach on Wednesday but had kept him abreast of the Dodgers’ thinking and plans.

“I have tremendous respect for Tim and hope that one day soon he’ll be working for us in another capacity,” Claire said. That could happen this winter if Wallach is unable to find employment as a free agent.


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