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Dodgers 2002

Who’s New

LHP Kazuhisa Ishii, Omar Daal and Odalis Perez; RHP Hideo Nomo and Paul Quantrill; SS Cesar Izturis; OF Brian Jordan, Dante Bichette and Dave Roberts.

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Who’s Gone

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RHP Chan Ho Park, Jeff Shaw, Terry Adams, James Baldwin and Luke Prokopec; OF Gary Sheffield.

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Biggest Question Of Spring

Will pitchers Kevin Brown and Andy Ashby return to peak form after undergoing elbow surgery last year? If the two right-handers are sound, the Dodgers will have rotation depth from which they can trade for a proven closer, center fielder or leadoff hitter. If not, General Manager Dan Evans will lose that depth, diminishing his chances of a deal that would improve the club.

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Job Seekers

Eric Gagne, Daal and Perez will battle for the fifth rotation spot. Four players--Tom Goodwin, Marquis Grissom, McKay Christensen and Dave Roberts--will compete for the center-field job, though Roberts is viewed more as a reserve. Cesar Izturis will push Alex Cora for the shortstop job. Bichette, Mike Kinkade and Mark Whiten will compete for a reserve outfield spot.

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Keep Your Eye On

Izturis. The slick-fielding, speedy 22-year-old is expected to beat out Cora, but it will be asking a lot of Izturis to handle the rigors of baseball’s most demanding defensive position next to catching. “I can’t remember too many championship-caliber clubs that weren’t pretty darn strong up the middle,” Manager Jim Tracy said. “We don’t want to put undue pressure on him. First and foremost, catch the ball at that position. If you can’t, we can’t win.”

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Reasons to Be Excited

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Shawn Green, who batted .297 with 49 home runs and 125 runs batted in last season, is developing into one of baseball’s premier hitters, and Paul Lo Duca emerged in 2001 as a superb all-around catcher. Eric Karros and Adrian Beltre appear sound after injury-plagued 2001 seasons. Despite the loss of Chan Ho Park, the rotation should be strong as long as Brown and Ashby are sound.

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Reasons to Be Worried

Brown and Ashby underwent serious elbow procedures, and there is no guarantee they’ll be ready for the season or return to pre-surgery form. There is no legitimate offensive threat in the leadoff spot, and that could leave Green with few RBI opportunities. There is no ninth-inning hammer, that powerful, reliable and proven closer, to hold late-game leads.

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Projected Opening-Day Payroll

$103 million.

Mike DiGiovanna

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