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Torre is his own boss

Times Staff Writer

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Told that he looked particularly relaxed Wednesday, Dodgers Manager Joe Torre admitted that he was.

Pitchers, catchers and players rehabilitating from injury were due to report to Dodgertown the next day. Many had already done so. But there was a weight that Torre often felt at this time of the year that he said was noticeably absent, or what he called the pressure of “trying to satisfy the people you work for.”

That is, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

Managing the Yankees for the last 12 seasons, he said, pressure came not only from above, but also from the outside. Torre recalled how in spring training of 2002, he was approached by a fan who told him, “We’ll do better this year.” The previous fall, the Yankees had come within an out of winning the World Series.

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Torre described himself as being more confident at this stage of his managerial career than he was when he took over the Yankees in 1996.

“I don’t think I have anything to prove,” Torre said.

Being associated with a winner like the Yankees, he said, probably would make the players on his new club more receptive to what he has to say.

But Torre said he would miss the member of his coaching staff he lost, Don Mattingly. Slated to be the hitting coach, Mattingly stepped down and became a special assignment coach to deal with family issues. Mattingly will be in camp next week, Torre said, and, if Torre had his way, back on the coaching staff next season.

Mattingly was replaced by Mike Easler, who was promoted from triple-A Las Vegas.

Closer Takashi Saito doubled his base salary from last season, re-signing with the Dodgers for $2 million. The one-year contract includes $200,000 in incentives.

Reminded that he would turn 38 today, a smiling Saito said, “Happy birthday to me.”

Saito, who flew into Florida on Wednesday without a signed contract, had almost no leverage in the negotiations because he was ineligible to file for free agency or arbitration. Though he was an All-Star, converted 39 of 43 save opportunities, and posted a 1.40 earned-run average, he said he felt he was compensated fairly. He also said he didn’t mind that he would be paid far less than Hiroki Kuroda, a newcomer from Japan who signed a three-year, $35.3-million contract.

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“Kuroda got what he got because of the high opinion they had of him,” Saito said. “I came here on a minor league contract. I had to climb my way up to this point.”

Saito said being arbitration-eligible next winter is a motivation for him to do well, but added, “Something like that doesn’t necessarily link to performance.”

The move of the Dodgers’ spring training base to Glendale, Ariz., in 2009 is expected to be made official next week. An exit agreement with Indian River County, which would terminate the Dodgers’ lease at Dodgertown, will be completed by Tuesday, Vero Beach Mayor Tom White said. The agreement will be presented at a county commission meeting that day.

White said his understanding is that the Dodgers won’t pay a penalty to leave Dodgertown early (the lease runs through 2021) and that the Dodgers won’t buy back Dodgertown from the city and county, as they have the option to do. That would allow Vero Beach to bring in another major league club, believed to be the Baltimore Orioles, with which it has an option agreement.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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