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Still No Relief for Dodgers

The Dodgers have been playing a game of revolving relief, employing Antonio Osuna as the closer, then Scott Radinsky, now Osuna again.

The ineffectiveness of that patchwork process was one reason Fred Claire and Bill Russell were sitting home Tuesday night while the Dodgers took on the Angels at Edison Field with a total of 17 saves.

The only major league teams with fewer were the Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins--and an argument can be made that the Marlins should be in the Florida State League rather than the National League.

To accentuate the point in this year of living dangerously for the Dodgers, Troy Percival sat in the Angel bullpen Tuesday night with 23 saves of his own.

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Said one Dodger player: “Nothing takes the wind out of a team’s sails faster than to keep losing games in the late innings. It’s a good idea, if you’re doing a story on it.”

The idea is simple.

If the management upheaval was designed to help save the season, it can’t be accomplished without someone to save games.

The priority is obvious.

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New general manager Tom Lasorda and new manager Glenn Hoffman met with the coaching staff, farm director Charlie Blaney and vice president Ralph Avila, in from the Dominican, to discuss the club’s overall situation before Tuesday’s game.

“You can’t win without a closer,” Lasorda said after the meeting, “but trying to find one is like trying to find a diamond in the rough.

“We’ll make some calls to see what’s available, but we also think Osuna has the equipment to do the job.”

That’s probably part sincerity, part psych--for Osuna’s benefit.

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The certainty is that it may be easier to find that diamond than a dominant closer. In a pitching-thin market, nobody’s giving them away.

Among the possibilities, the most attractive is probably Jeff Shaw of the Cincinnati Reds.

Shaw’s 1997 emergence, when he saved a league-high 42 games, led to the Reds sending closer Jeff Brantley to the St. Louis Cardinals.

It also netted Shaw, 31, a three-year, $8.4-million contract, which is significantly under the market, but Shaw is an area native and was willing to take less.

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Why would the Reds turn around and trade him?

“The situation here is going to be hopeless for another couple years at least,” a club source said. “The objective is to stockpile as many legitimate prospects as possible.”

Said General Manager Jim Bowden, who remains in serious talks with the San Diego Padres involving shortstop Barry Larkin:

“No one is untouchable.” Bowden then laughed at the thought of dealing with the emotional Lasorda and added:

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“I can’t wait to start talking to Tommy, that’s going to be fun.”

Manager Jack McKeon agrees, having left a congratulatory message on Lasorda’s answering machine that said:

“If anyone can turn [the Dodgers] around, you can. But would you send me a couple of your hitters?”

McKeon was kidding, sort of.

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Given Shaw’s willingness to accept less to stay in Cincinnati, the Reds would probably have to be overwhelmed with prospects, which may be a tough task for the Dodgers, who remain unwilling to deal Paul Konerko or Adrian Beltre.

There’s also the matter of adding about $3 million to a payroll that’s already at $57 million.

Will Fox pop?

“Let me ask you something,” Lasorda said. “If you’re playing poker and have a big pot but need to put in another thousand to go for it, wouldn’t you do that?

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“I mean, if you’re going to lose $5,000 but can win a lot by putting in another thousand . . . well, I know I’d have to go for it.”

That may have been Lasorda’s way of saying Fox will pay a price that figures to be heavy no matter who the coveted closer is. Among other possibilities:

* Kansas City’s Jeff Montgomery, who at 36 has converted 15 of 18 save opportunities, makes $2.8 million this year and is eligible for free agency. The Royals have expressed a desire to retain Montgomery, but may decide before the July 31 trade deadline that they can’t risk losing him without getting something in return.

* Cleveland’s Jose Mesa, who makes $1.9 million in this last year of his contract and has lost his closer role to Mike Jackson. Mesa has only one save since Sept. 17, but could represent a prize reclamation.

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* Minnesota’s Rick Aguilera, who at 36 has converted 15 of 20 save opportunities and is in the last year of a three-year, $9-million contract that includes a total no-trade clause. Aguilera, however, recently moved his family to San Diego and might be willing to waive the no-trade to be closer.

* Oakland’s Mike Fetters, who saved 32 games two years ago, has 13 this year and makes a comparatively modest $2 million.

In addition:

* The Baltimore Orioles will deal Alan Mills, Arthur Rhodes or Armando Benitez for a starting pitcher, but none of those three speed-gun junkies has emerged as a consistent closer, and the Dodgers don’t have the expendable starter.

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* The Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays haven’t disconnected their phones, sources said, but are not ready to give up on major investments in Randy Myers (three years at $18 million) and Roberto Hernandez (four years at $22.5 million).

The Dodger search is compounded by the fact that they are not alone. The Atlanta Braves are pursuing a Mark Wohlers replacement, looking hard at Mesa and Myers, and driving up the price.

All of this might have been avoided if Claire had gone hard after Rod Beck or Robb Nen last winter.

He was handcuffed, however, by payroll restrictions and opted to put his limited resources--some contend he overpaid--into middle infielders Eric Young and Jose Vizcaino, while also rewarding Raul Mondesi and cognizant that Mike Piazza waited in the wings.

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The result: no consistent replacement for Todd Worrell’s 35 saves and the lingering need to find one.

“I’ve heard from a few clubs,” Lasorda said on his second day as GM, “but I’m like Nordstrom’s. If you want something from me, you have to come and get it.”

Not really, of course. It’s Lasorda who has to do the shopping, and the catalog is pretty thin.


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