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DODGERS CAN'T SEEM TO FIND POWER SOURCE L.A. SIGNS NOMAR, CLOSE TO SIGNING PIERRE, BUT SLUGGER HARD TO COME BY.

Byline: RICH HAMMOND Staff Writer

It seems that the Dodgers' 2007 lineup will be built with speed and gap power and without any of the sluggers who were so highly coveted on the free-agent market this offseason.

The Dodgers are expected to sign center fielder Juan Pierre to a five- year contract worth roughly $44 million, and Monday the team announced a two-year, $18.5-million deal for Nomar Garciaparra.

Pierre, 29, led the National League with 204 hits last season with the Chicago Cubs. In six full major-league seasons, Pierre has topped 200 hits four times and 50 stolen bases threetimes, including 58 last year.

According to one report, the deal with Pierre is done and will be announced when he passes a physical.

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti wouldn't confirm the report but raved about Pierre's abilities.

``This man gets on base an awful lot,'' Colletti said of Pierre, who hit .292 but had just a .330 on-base percentage last season. ``He's another guy with great qualities as a human being. If we're able to come to terms with him and he's at the top of the order with (Rafael Furcal), that will help the ballclub.''

Pierre, who made $6.5 million in 2006, reportedly received a four-year offer from San Francisco. He's a left-handed hitter who walks and strikes out infrequently and has a decent arm, at best, in center field.

With his speed, Pierre should provide an overall upgrade from 39-year-old Kenny Lofton, and the retention of Garciaparra gives the Dodgers a solid top of the order, but what about the middle?

J.D. Drew's decision to explore free agency left the Dodgers with a 20- homer, 100-RBI hole in their lineup, one that isn't likely to be filled through free agency given what's left on the market.

Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, two Dodger targets, are already spoken for and Colletti said that a third major slugger -- likely a reference to Carlos Lee -- is close to signing a deal elsewhere.

Colletti said the Dodgers would explore trading for a slugger ``if we can come up with a surplus of pitching'' but mostly sounded resigned to the idea that the Dodgers will focus on run production.

``There are people in our organization who think there is more power (potential) from (Wilson) Betemit and (Andre) Ethier and maybe from (Russell) Martin,'' Colletti said. ``While we were challenged power-wise last year, we did lead the league in hits.

``The market is what it is. (Power hitters) don't come out of nowhere. If you have speed and pitching, you can win games if you have the defense to back up that pitching.''

Defense is another question for the Dodgers, in particular as it pertains to who will play where.

Garciaparra, who moved to first base last season, said he would be open to another move, most likely to third base. James Loney would then become the full-time first baseman, but Colletti stopped short of saying that would happen and added Loney could split time between first base and the outfield.

Betemit is the semi-incumbent third baseman, while Ethier and Matt Kemp likely will be involved in the outfield mix, but as it stands now, Garciaparra and Jeff Kent are the only Dodger veterans with power.

That's assuming Garciaparra stays healthy. He played in 122 games, his most since 2003, but had nagging injuries throughout last season.

Unlike his previous contract with the Dodgers, this one does not include incentives based on at-bats, but Garciaparra pronounced himself healthy and ready to play anywhere.

``My take is the same as last year,'' Garciaparra said. ``Whatever position is going to give us the best option to win, I'll do it. That was my attitude last year and that will be my attitude in the years going forward.''

Garciaparra, 33 and a native of Whittier, said once the Dodgers signified a serious interest in retaining him, he did not seriously negotiate with other teams.

``(Free agency) wasn't a matter of finding out what the top dollar was,'' Garciaparra said. ``It was about being where I wanted to be.''

rich.hammond@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3611

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) GARCIAPARRA

(2 -- color) PIERRE
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 21, 2006
Words:701
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