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Dodgers start cold at winter meetings

Times Staff Writer

Greg Maddux could be slipping to the south and Manny Ramirez is beyond reach for the moment, dampening the first day of the winter meetings for the Dodgers despite the organization’s getting an unprecedented award.

The Dodgers were named organization of the year by Baseball America for the first time in the 25 years the publication has given the award. Yet that doesn’t hold any weight in negotiations with free agents such as Maddux or in trade talks with the Boston Red Sox, who dangled the slugging Ramirez in meetings with the Dodgers and Angels on Monday but asked too much in return to generate more than mild interest.

Maddux, meanwhile, is getting plenty of attention from the San Diego Padres, who believe a deal is imminent after meeting with his agent, Scott Boras.

“Talking with Scott, I wouldn’t be surprised if something happens with Maddux by the end of the meetings,” Padres General Manager Kevin Towers said.

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The Dodgers did not offer Maddux arbitration after agonizing over the decision for days. Had they done so, any other team signing the 40-year-old future Hall of Famer would have had to give the Dodgers two high draft picks. However, the Dodgers were worried that Maddux would accept arbitration and be awarded $12 million to $14 million next season.

Boras is seeking $21 million over two years, according to a source who spoke to him. The Dodgers have made a two-year offer, but for less than $20 million with the second year contingent on performance-based incentives. Maddux ranks 10th on the all-time list with 333 victories, was 15-14 last season and has pitched at least 199 innings every season since 1988.

Negotiations could be complicated by the strained relationship between Boras and Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti, who was livid when another Boras client, outfielder J.D. Drew, opted out of the last three years of his contract a few weeks ago.

Colletti, however, realizes that maintaining a professional relationship with Boras is important because he represents so many prominent players. Although Colletti would not say whether he plans to make a last-ditch effort to re-sign Maddux, two executives from other teams said they would be shocked if that didn’t happen.

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Towers said the contracts for 40-year-old Tom Glavine and 38-year-old Mike Mussina could be guideposts in negotiations for Maddux. Glavine signed last week with the New York Mets for $7.5 million next season with a $9-million player option for 2008 and a $3-million buyout. Mussina signed a two-year, $23-million extension with the Yankees a month ago.

“In past negotiations for Greg, it was always important to Scott that Greg be compensated fairly within his peer group,” Towers said.

If the Padres sign Maddux, the Dodgers would turn their attention to free agent Jason Schmidt and, perhaps, Gil Meche, Ted Lilly or Jeff Suppan. Colletti expects Schmidt to wait until Barry Zito, considered the top free-agent pitcher, makes a decision and sets the market.

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Colletti said the Dodgers are close to an agreement with closer Takashi Saito, who made $500,000 as a rookie last season but had hinted that he would remain in Japan if he didn’t get a significant raise.

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Second baseman Jeff Kent, who sat out 47 games because of injury last season, informed the Dodgers that he wants to come to spring training in the best condition of his career. Now he’s doing something about it.

Doug Jarrow, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, is spending the next two days at Kent’s Texas ranch, helping him implement a rigorous off-season training program.

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“Kent doesn’t like players who get injured,” one Dodgers official said. “He doesn’t want to continue being one of those guys.”

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Mike Lieberthal could take a physical as soon as today, the last hurdle in signing the backup catcher. ... Todd Tomczak was hired as assistant athletic trainer, replacing Matt Wilson, whose contract was not renewed. ... Lorenzo Bundy will manage triple-A Las Vegas, and P.J. Carey will be minor league field coordinator.

steve.henson@latimes.com


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