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Relief at Last for Dodgers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers accomplished their first off-season goal Wednesday, persuading all-star pitcher Jeff Shaw to remain with the club by putting him among the game’s highest-paid closers.

Shaw, who considered requesting a trade because he wanted to work closer to his year-round home in Ohio, had his three-year contract restructured by the team. The average annual value on the guaranteed portion of his new package is $5.5 million--$2.7 million more than his previous deal, baseball sources said.

His base salary will be $4 million next season, $5 million in 2000 and $6 million in 2001. The Dodgers added an option year at $7 million and included a limited no-trade clause.

If the club exercises a $1.5-million buyout in the option year, Shaw’s revised deal would be worth $16.5 million.

The move assures the Dodgers that Shaw, who made $650,000 during the just-completed season, won’t exercise his right to demand a trade. Retaining Shaw was among the Dodgers’ top priorities, and he’s staying put.

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“The Dodgers did a lot to show their commitment to me and to making this work for my family,” Shaw, 32, said during a conference call from his home in Washington Court House, Ohio. “That meant a lot to me because this whole thing has been very difficult.”

The restructured contract puts Shaw in line with the highest-paid players at his position.

John Wetteland of the Texas Rangers was the highest-paid reliever in 1998 at $5.75 million, and Robb Nen of the San Francisco Giants had the highest salary in the National League West at $4 million. Shaw was scheduled to begin a three-year deal worth $2.8 million annually in 1999.

Now, Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone, whose handling of the Shaw situation was key in completing the deal, will focus his efforts on the upcoming free-agent market.

The Dodgers haven’t completed their off-season work, but they believe they’re off to a good start.

“I like to have things accomplished quickly; patience isn’t my biggest virtue, so that was the only tough thing about the situation with Jeff,” Malone said. “But I knew how important this decision was for the Shaws, and I wanted to give them the time they needed to make a decision that they could feel comfortable with.

“I felt, in time, we would be able to find some common ground with Jeff and Julie [Shaw’s wife], and that we could all be comfortable and make it work. In my old age, I’ve come to find that a lot of quality things in life are worth waiting for, and this was one of them.”

Especially considering what Shaw did for the Dodgers in 1998.

The right-hander saved 25 games with the Dodgers and 48 overall--third in the NL--after Tom Lasorda acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds on July 4 for Paul Konerko and Dennis Reyes, the team’s top position and pitching prospects, respectively.

Shaw had signed with the Reds for less than he could have received elsewhere because Cincinnati is close to his home.

But Shaw, as a player traded with a multiyear contract, had the right to demand another trade by midnight Eastern time Wednesday. Had Shaw exercised that option, the Dodgers would have been forced to move him, or he would have become a free agent.

Shaw considered leaving because he spent little time with his wife and children, who remained in Ohio, after the trade. But the Dodgers convinced the Shaws they could learn to love L.A.

“This was a total family decision,” said Shaw, whose wife and children will live with him in the L.A. area next season. “We’re small-town people and we enjoyed playing in Cincinnati, but to ask for a trade from the Dodgers, and being thrown out there wherever, that was kind of scary too.”

Shaw and his Cincinnati-based agent, Joe Bick, credited Malone with closing the deal.

“Kevin was very, very crucial to the whole process,” said Shaw, who pitched for the Montreal Expos while Malone was the club’s general manager. “Kevin knows the type of person I am, how I work and where my morals stand.

“Throughout the negotiations, Kevin was honest and straightforward. He didn’t try to slide anything past me that wasn’t there.”

Malone met with the Shaws and Bick in Columbus, Ohio, a few weeks ago to explain the Dodgers’ intentions. It was during that meeting that the Dodgers got back in the game, Bick said.

“Kevin’s overall approach made Jeff and Julie feel comfortable that they could stay if they wanted to,” Bick said. “He had a very easy approach, and he didn’t try to shove anything down their throats. I think the whole thing changed from night to day because of that.”

That’s what Malone hoped would occur.

“Some people don’t understand that a lot of things in this game are based on personal relationships,” Malone said. “This was a case where a personal relationship helped us accomplish something positive.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Highest Paid Relief Pitchers

Name: John Wettleland

Team: Texas

Salary: $5,750,000

Saves: 42

ERA: 2.03

*

Name: Jeff Shaw

Team: Dodgers

Salary: $5,500,000

Saves: 48

ERA: 2.12

*

Name: Rod Beck

Team: Chicago Cubs

Salary: $4,750.000

Saves: 51

ERA: 3.02

*

Name: Mel Rojas

Team: N.Y. Mets

Salary: $4,583,333

Saves: 2

ERA: 6.05

*

Name: Randy Myers

Team: San Diego

Salary: $4,416,667

Saves: 28

ERA: 4.93

*

Name: Mark Wohlers

Team: Atlanta

Salary: $4,125,000

Saves: 8

ERA: 10.18

*

Name: Roberto Hernandez

Team: Tampa Bay

Salary: $4,000,000

Saves: 26

ERA: 4.04

*

Name: Robb Nen

Team: San Francisco

Salary: $4,000,000

Saves: 40

ERA: 1.52

*

Name: Tom Gordon

Team: Boston

Salary: $3,100,000

Saves: 46

ERA: 2.72

*

Name: Jeff Brantley

Team: St. Louis

Salary: $2,800,000

Saves: 14

ERA: 4.44

*

Name: Trevor Hoffman

Team: San Diego

Salary: $2,800,000

Saves: 53

ERA: 1.48

*

Name: John Franco

Team: Mets

Salary: $2,600,000

Saves: 38

ERA: 3.62

*


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