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DODGERS GAMBLE - BIG! LO DUCA, MOTA TRADED FOR PENNY, CHOI.

Byline: Tony Jackson Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO - The Dodgers completed a blockbuster, six-player deal with the Florida Marlins on Friday, acquiring right-hander Brad Penny, first baseman Hee Seop Choi and highly regarded minor-league pitching prospect Bill Murphy from the Marlins for catcher Paul Lo Duca, reliever Guillermo Mota and right fielder Juan Encarnacion.

Lo Duca, Mota and Encarnacion all spoke with the media, packed their bags and left Petco Park shortly before the Dodgers' game with San Diego. The deal wasn't made official until the fourth inning, when it was approved by Major League Baseball.

``Certainly, we want to get to (the playoffs), no doubt about it,'' Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. ``But if we play well enough to get there, we also want to play well once we're there. I felt like if we got in and were going to have a chance to do something, we needed to address the top of our rotation.''

DePodesta also confirmed that the Dodgers have agreed in principle on a trade for Colorado's Charles Johnson, a former Dodger who would replace Lo Duca as their regular catcher. That deal is contingent upon Johnson waiving his no-trade clause. Johnson had said earlier that he was unwilling to waive it for any potential trade, but DePodesta said he is optimistic Johnson has changed his mind and will accept a trade to the Dodgers.

``We have talked a couple of times, and I feel good about it,'' DePodesta said.

There have been reports that the Rockies would foot the bill for the bulk of the approximately $12.1 million left on Johnson's contract, which expires after next season. DePodesta confirmed there were ``cash considerations'' involved in the deal, but would not get into specifics.

To acquire Johnson, the Dodgers would send the Rockies a minor-leaguer whom DePodesta would not identify except to say the player was a legitimate prospect.

The trade with the Marlins satisfies DePodesta's stated desire to add a front-line starting pitcher to the rotation, but there was speculation the Dodgers might immediately trade Penny to Arizona for five-time Cy Young left-hander Randy Johnson in what by most accounts would be a five- or six-player deal that might also bring Diamondbacks center fielder Steve Finley to Los Angeles.

DePodesta denied having reached any agreement in principle with the Diamondbacks involving Randy Johnson, Finley or any other player. If there was a deal for Randy Johnson, it might be dead now.

Randy Johnson reportedly said before starting Friday night's game at Colorado that he would ponder the deal overnight before deciding whether to waive his no-trade clause and go to Los Angeles. The rumored trade would have sent Penny, outfielder Jayson Werth and pitching prospects Chad Billingsley and Chuck Tiffany to the Diamondbacks.

But Diamondbacks chief executive officer Jerry Colangelo told the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune Friday night, ``I can probably say chances are (Johnson) will be a Diamondback.''

DePodesta did not completely rule out the possibility of flipping Penny to another team before today's 1 p.m. trade deadline.

``I'm not expecting to,'' he said. ``But I don't want to say absolutely not.''

Because the deal was not yet official, and because league tampering rules still applied, Dodgers manager Jim Tracy could only tap-dance around the issue during his daily media briefing before the game.

``You're talking about some pretty integral people on the two different clubs,'' Tracy said. ``You're not talking small potatoes.''

DePodesta said the trade with Florida involved some cash considerations, but nothing major, meaning each team will more or less pick up the full amount of salary owed to each of the players it is receiving. That means the trade represents a net savings of about $4.5 million for the Dodgers. Lo Duca had a salary of $3.9 million in the final season of a three-year deal and stood to receive about $8 million in arbitration next winter.

Encarnacion was in the first season of a two-year contract the Dodgers gave him after acquiring him from the Marlins last Dec. 13 for minor leaguer Travis Ezy, and had a salary this season of $3.565 million. Mota's salary is $1.475 million, and he stood to receive a considerable raise in arbitration.

Penny has a 2004 salary of $3.725 million and also was in line to get about $8 million next season through arbitration, making the swap of Lo Duca and Penny a veritable wash financially. Choi is making $310,000, and Murphy, who played college ball at California State University, Northridge, is not on a major-league contract.

Lo Duca, one of the most popular Dodgers players in recent history and a favorite of the team's pitching staff, broke down while addressing the media just before leaving the clubhouse. Lo Duca then drove back to Los Angeles to pack and was to catch an early morning flight to Florida today. Mota and Encarnacion were booked on the same flight.

That's about as official as a trade can get.

``This is hard,'' Lo Duca said. ``This is the only organization I have ever known, and I'm in my 10th year here. It's difficult. Obviously, I have a lot of friends here. The fans have been great to me. I always knew in the back of my mind that this might happen someday, but I always dreamed of being a Dodger my whole life. This is the organization that drafted me, and I wanted to spend my whole career here.''

Nevertheless, Lo Duca could see the positive side.

``I'm excited to go (to Florida),'' he said. ``I'll have a chance to win there, too. The Marlins wanted me, and I take that as a compliment. I'll go over there and play my (rear) off.''

Tony Jackson, (818) 713-3675

tony.jackson(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) LO DUCA

(2 -- color) PENNY

(3 -- color) RANDY JOHNSON

Box:

HE'S GONE - HE'S HERE
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 31, 2004
Words:988
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