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Dodgers close to keeping Nomar

Times Staff Writer

Nomar Garciaparra’s desire to continue to report for work at Chavez Ravine has eroded reluctance within the Dodgers front office to the point that he is expected to agree to a multiyear contract as soon as today, baseball sources said.

The deal would be for two or three years and would call for a significantly higher base salary than he received last year, when he played for a guaranteed $6 million and earned another $2.5 million in incentives based on plate appearances.

Although Garciaparra successfully converted from shortstop to first base and was named National League comeback player of the year after batting .303 with 20 home runs, the Dodgers were hesitant to re-sign him because of his history of injuries and the development of promising rookie first baseman James Loney.

Even when right fielder J.D. Drew opted out of the last three years of his contract last week, leaving another gaping hole in the middle of the Dodgers batting order, General Manager Ned Colletti wasn’t convinced Garciaparra was the right fit.

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But the more Colletti thought about Garciaparra in the context of Drew’s departure, the more he warmed to bringing him back. Colletti has high regard for players who want to wear the Dodgers uniform rather than simply seek the biggest contract on the market. Garciaparra, who grew up in Whittier and lives in Manhattan Beach, thoroughly enjoyed playing in front of his family and stated repeatedly that he wanted to return.

Colletti spoke with Manager Grady Little, who had coaxed an injury-free season out of Drew by giving him frequent days off. Should Garciaparra re-sign, they decided he would be treated similarly. That’s the rationale behind a contract with a higher base salary and fewer incentives -- the Dodgers don’t want Garciaparra playing through an injury simply to accumulate plate appearances.

The exorbitant price of the handful of proven hitters on the free-agent market fueled Colletti’s desire to put Garciaparra on the front burner.

He has been pursued by several other teams, including the San Diego Padres, who would have him play second base.

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Arn Tellem, Garciaparra’s agent, informed Colletti that his client would be willing to play a position other than first base -- perhaps third or the outfield. However, the Dodgers believe Garciaparra has a better chance of staying healthy by remaining at first and would be reluctant to have him change positions. Loney would play first when Garciaparra rests and also compete for playing time in the outfield.

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The Dodgers signed pitcher Travis Smith and catcher Ken Huckaby to minor league contracts and invited them to spring training. Smith, a 34-year-old right-hander, made one start with the Atlanta Braves last season and is 6-6 in 111 career innings. Huckaby, 35, has batted .222 over six seasons.

steve.henson@latimes.com


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