As general manager Ned Colletti wrapped up negotiations with agent Arn Tellem in November to keep first baseman Nomar Garciaparra in Los Angeles, Tellem told Colletti that he had another free-agent client who was highly motivated to be a Dodger, lefthanded pitcher Randy Wolf. Colletti was interested but wasn't sure he could afford the price tag in a bull market that would bring Gil Meche a five-year, $55 million contract from Kansas City. Soon Tellem let Colletti know just how motivated Wolf was: He'd take a one-year contract.
"I thought he was probably worth three years, $24 million, maybe two years with an option for the third," Colletti says. "In this day and age, when do you see a player leave money on the table? But it told me two very important things about Randy Wolf. Number 1, he wanted to be a Dodger, and those are the kinds of players we want here. Number 2, it told me he was convinced he was fully healthy, because if he wasn't, he would have been looking for the security of more guaranteed years."
Wolf (69-60, 4.21 ERA in his career) took $8 million to pitch for the Dodgers this year with a $9 million vesting option for 2008 based on innings pitched -- far less than not only Meche money but also the $40 million that went to Ted Lilly (59-58, 4.60), the $33.8 million to Vicente Padilla (66-61, 4.06) and the $24.5 million to Adam Eaton (54-45, 4.40), who replaced Wolf in Philadelphia.
"The bottom line was, this is where I always wanted to be," says Wolf, who grew up a Dodgers fan in Southern California, twice pitched for his high school city section championship game at Dodger Stadium and starred at Pepperdine. "It's a dream come true."
Los Angeles is banking on getting Wolf at the perfect time -- 21 months after Tommy John surgery. He had pitched with pain in his elbow since 2002 and did make 12 pain-free postoperative starts for the Phillies last year (4-0, 5.56). Says Wolf, "I'm healthy. My arm feels better than it ever felt. It's like I'm back in high school. By the third [warmup] throw I feel like I can throw as hard as I can. Before, if it took me 20 throws to get loose, that was good."
Colletti didn't stop with Wolf in his efforts to build the team around starting pitching, the traditional Dodgers' strength in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. He also signed ace righthander Jason Schmidt, 34, who has made at least 29 starts for five years running, to a more market-driven three-year, $47 million deal. The additions fortified Los Angeles with four starters who have been 16-game winners: Derek Lowe, Wolf, Schmidt and Brad Penny. Mix in a power bullpen -- only the Cubs' pen struck out batters at a better rate last year -- that can use Takashi Saito or Jonathan Broxton to close, and Los Angeles can match any staff in the league.
All that pitching takes pressure off a lineup that last year hit fewer homers than every team in the league except Pittsburgh. The Dodgers won a wild-card spot largely because they drew walks (third), ran the bases well (second in steals) and hit well with runners in scoring position (first). They'll employ the same method this season and have third baseman Andy LaRoche, 23, first baseman James Loney, 22, and outfielder Matt Kemp, 22, on reserve if the offense needs an in-season boost.
Los Angeles is looking for consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1995-96, but the franchise needs to address a more vexing dry spell: It hasn't won a playoff series since 1988, a streak that continued with a three-games-and-out thrashing by the Mets last year. Says Colletti, "There were tears in the clubhouse after that. I can't ever recall a team that took the last day so hard. But the message from the players was the same: I can't wait for next year." -- Tom Verducci
Issue date: March 26, 2007