Not that Nomar Garciaparra was plucked off the bargain rack, but the Dodgers felt fortunate to finish up a two-year, $18-million contract for the lifetime .318 hitter Sunday after the most coveted offensive player on the free-agent market, Alfonso Soriano, agreed to a mind-boggling deal with the Chicago Cubs.
Soriano, whose 46 home runs and 41 stolen bases last season had teams tripping over themselves to hand him cash, reportedly will be paid $136 million over eight years by the Cubs, who have been especially aggressive this off-season despite published reports that the team’s parent company, Tribune Co., might sell its holdings, which include the Los Angeles Times.
The Dodgers were one of three finalists for Soriano, according to a source close to the negotiations, but declined to match a Cubs offer that eclipsed outfielder Carlos Beltran’s seven-year, $119-million deal with the New York Mets two years ago.
Another hurdle was that Soriano told his representatives that he was reluctant to play for a team on the West Coast.
In comparison, getting Garciaparra for barely more than the $8.5 he earned last season seemed like a steal.
In his only Dodgers season, the Whittier native batted .303 with 20 home runs and 93 runs batted in and was named the National League comeback player of the year.
Garciaparra, 33, led the league in batting the first half of the season before tailing off the last three months while battling injuries to his rib cage and leg. He delivered several dramatic hits down the stretch, however, helping the Dodgers reach the playoffs as a wild-card team.
He also made a successful transition from shortstop to first base, committing only four errors in 118 games at the position. Garciaparra has told the Dodgers he would be willing to move to third base to create a full-time spot for highly regarded rookie first baseman James Loney. Garciaparra has played more than 1,000 games at shortstop during his 11-year career but his only experience at third is 34 games with the Cubs in 2005.
Retaining Garciaparra despite his history of injuries -- he has missed 221 games the last three years -- became especially important when right fielder J.D. Drew opted out of the last three years of his contract. The Dodgers finished next to last in the National League in home runs.
There are few proven home run hitters left on the market. General Manager Ned Colletti is adamant that he won’t try to renegotiate a deal with Drew, and industry sources said slugging left fielder Carlos Lee is seeking a six-year, $100-million deal. Like Soriano, Lee doesn’t want to play for a team on the West Coast.
The Dodgers don’t want any part of Barry Bonds, leaving few options to add power to the outfield. Aubrey Huff, who hit 21 home runs last season, is a possibility, as are Luis Gonzalez, Trot Nixon, Craig Wilson and Cliff Floyd.
Acquiring a center fielder for a season to give top prospect Matt Kemp more time to develop is another consideration. The Dodgers could re-sign Kenny Lofton and are looking at Gary Matthews Jr., Juan Pierre and Dave Roberts.
The Dodgers do not plan to make a bid on Japanese left-handed pitcher Kei Igawa, who was 75-43 for the Hanshin Tigers the last four years, a source said. Teams can bid for the right to negotiate with Igawa until Friday.