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END OF ERA FOR DODGERS L.A. TRADES KEVIN BROWN TO YANKEES.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS - The Dodgers' trade Thursday of Kevin Brown to the New York Yankees for Jeff Weaver plus two minor-league prospects and $3 million ends an era in Los Angeles, one that started with the biggest contract in baseball history and ended with zero championships.

According to baseball sources, Yankees officials have asked to examine Brown's contract, under which he will receive $15 million in each of the next two seasons, and all players involved must pass physical examinations before the trade can be announced, which could happen as soon as this morning.

Neither team or the players involved would comment until the deal is official. Dodgers general manager Dan Evans discussed the potential of a Brown-for-Weaver trade last month, but rejected it. Thursday morning, the Houston Astros signed pitcher Andy Pettitte away from New York, which increased the pressure on Yankees GM Brian Cashman to make a trade for a top-level pitcher.

Sources said Cashman contacted the Dodgers early Thursday and sweetened the offer to include a cash payment of $1.5 million in each of the next two years, plus two top offensive prospects. The deal saves the Dodgers approximately $10.25 million in payroll for 2004, which can be used to pursue high-profile free agents and trades with hopes of improving their paltry offense.

Brown and Weaver, a Simi Valley High product, are represented by agent Scott Boras. Both players were looking for a change of scenery, Brown with the desire to be closer to his wife and three children in Georgia, and Weaver hoping to get away from the Yankees, with whom he struggled since being acquired in July 2002.

Weaver, 27, might not stay in Los Angeles long. This trade will open many other trade possibilities for the Dodgers, who have a surplus of strong pitchers and might trade Weaver for an established hitter.

If he stays, Weaver will enjoy a homecoming in Southern California and possibly a fresh start. Weaver is due $6.25 million in 2004 and $9.25 million in 2005.

Weaver was one of baseball's top young pitchers with the Detroit Tigers, and was expected to flourish with the Yankees, but soon lost his spot in the starting rotation and became expendable. He went 7-9 with a 5.99 ERA last season, bouncing back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen.

In exchange for Weaver and the prospects, the Yankees get Brown, who turns 39 in March but who, when healthy, has been one of baseball's most dominant pitchers over the past decade.

Brown's stint in Los Angeles didn't quite go as well as planned. In 1998, he became the first player in baseball history to sign a $100 million contract when he reached agreement with then-GM Kevin Malone on a seven-year, $105 million deal. It was widely believed the Dodgers overpaid for Brown at the time of the signing, causing the team to have less payroll flexibility.

At the time of his signing, Brown was expected to transform the Dodgers into championship contenders, but they didn't even make the playoffs in his five seasons in Los Angeles.

Dodgers officials privately admit that Brown's surly disposition made him a divisive figure in the clubhouse, but that was easier to ignore in his first two seasons, when he won 18 and 13 games, respectively.

Brown's trouble with the Dodgers started in 2001, when he made only 19 starts because of problems with his right elbow that led to offseason surgery.

The problems only increased in 2002, when the elbow remained an issue and Brown also required midseason surgery to repair a protruding disc in his back. Brown returned in mid-August but made only one start before doctors put an end to his season in the heart of the Dodgers' playoff run.

But Brown enjoyed a revival in 2003, when he made 32 starts and went 14-9 with a 2.39 ERA, which ranked second in the National League. Brown would have been a strong contender for the Cy Young Award, if not for a midseason abdominal injury and terrible run support from the Dodgers' offense.

In the Dodgers' eyes, however, moving Brown was the right decision, given his salary, age and potential for injury. They already have a staff ace in Hideo Nomo, two solid left-handers in Kazuhisa Ishii and Odalis Perez, and a handful of talented youngsters, headed by Edwin Jackson.

With prospective new owner Frank McCourt expected to take charge this month, the Dodgers now have the financial ability to sign a top-level hitter, such as shortstop Miguel Tejada or outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, or trade for one, such as Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

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(1 -- 2 -- color) Dodger Kevin Brown was baseball's first $100 million pitcher in 1998. L.A. has traded Brown to the Yankees for Jeff Weaver from Simi Valley.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Dec 12, 2003
Words:812
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