1. LOS ANGELES DODGERS
GAGNE TO THE RESCUE
New shortstop Greg Gagne has stabilized a position that Jose Offerman, who was traded to the Kansas City Royals in the off-season, had butchered for four years. Gagne, who signed as a free agent, is the best defensive shortstop the Dodgers have had since Pee Wee Reese. Over the past four seasons Gagne made 67 fewer errors than Offerman did—and Gagne had 266 more chances. In 1995 Offerman made 12 errors just in games started by knuckleballer Tom Candiotti. "He had attitude problems—he pouted," Candiotti said of Offerman. "It was a problem that had to be rectified."
CAN THE BUTLER DO IT?
In this century 10 players who were 38 or older have been the regular centerfielder for their teams. This spring L.A. centerfielder Brett Butler, who turns 39 in June, looked as good as he did last August, when he was acquired from the Mets and sparked the Dodgers' offense. "I'm a .290 career hitter," he says. "If I hit .250, I'll walk away." Only two teams have won the pennant with a regular centerfielder who was 38 or older: the Chicago White Sox with Dummy Hoy in 1901 and the Detroit Tigers with Doc Cramer in '45.
In the National League only the Braves have better starting pitching than the Dodgers, whose rotation boasts Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo, Ismael Valdes, Candiotti and Pedro Astacio. The first four pitchers had ERAs of less than 3.75 last year.
WAIT TILL NEXT YEAR
Leftfield is a big question mark for the Dodgers, who will most likely platoon Todd Hollandsworth and Billy Ashley. Hollandsworth hit .233 and played only 41 games because of injuries last year, while in '95 Ashley set the major league strikeout mark (88) for players with fewer than 225 at bats in a season. The Dodgers, however, have two outstanding prospects in Triple A—Karim Garcia and Roger Cedeno, both of whom should be ready next year.
A CLOSER'S BEST FRIEND
Lefthanded reliever John Cummings was jogging this spring when he was bitten by a pit bull. Cummings then kicked the dog into a canal. That's the kind of toughness you want in a middle reliever.
The Dodgers will win the West. With their pitching and an upgraded defense, they might be the only team capable of challenging the Braves for the National League pennant.
2. SAN DIEGO PADRES
New leftfielder Rickey Henderson, 37, looks like he's 27. "I thought everyone got old," says Padres rightfielder Tony Gwynn. "I guess he's the exception." Henderson worked out all winter with a fitness coach for the first time in his career, and he was so enthusiastic this spring that he asked to play in exhibition games that he had been scheduled to sit out. How much does he have left? Says former A's teammate Dave Stewart, who works in the Oakland front office, "He might win the MVP."
The Padres will have a better shot at a postseason spot if shortstop Andujar Cedeno improves his overall game. His .210 average last season was the lowest among National League players who batted at least 300 times, and his fielding was erratic.