The Old Codger Looks onto the Future

We called on the eminent prognosticator, Bergstrom Stromsburg, aka "The Old Codger", hoping [a] to catch him at home and [b] get a quick assessment of the Dodger season-ending roster and his evaluation of each of the players before the trading-free agency rush that will follow the World Series.

"It's plumb lucky you caught me, son" he said, standing in the doorway of his modest ranch home in Flats, Nebraska. He has been the personal confidant of baseball owners and general managers for many years, listing Connie Mack, John McGraw, Col. Jacob Ruppert, Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck among his clients.

"I just received an urgent call from a Mr. Steinbrenner in New York and from someone who said he was a member of the Boston Red Sox front office.

"Both callers seemed desperate and I am leaving on the next train for the East Coast."

We ignored the fact that there hasn't been a train that stopped in Flats since 19-ought-07 and implored him to give us a few minuets of his time and an overview of the Dodger season-ending roster.

Flattery will get you anywhere with the old gentleman, so he drew himself up to his full 5' 4" and put his battered old cardbord suitcase down.

"Well, if it is it important, I can give you ..." then pulling a chain from his pocket and peering at the face of his watch that looked the size of a large onion, "seven and one-half minutes."

We grabbed an envelope and a stub pencil to record his valued impressions.

Looking off over our shoulder as if he could see the future, he started in -- going alphabetically as he usually does. These were his words:

Willy Aybar seems to be the real thing and should start the season at third base next year. If Andy LaRoche is ready, and they certainly will take a good, strong look at that in the spring, they will switch Jeff Kent to first base, move Aybar to second and hand the job to LaRoche for the next 12 years.

Paul Bako will be the backup catcher only until Russell Martin gets a ticket to Los Angeles, then they will have a pair of the best young catchers since 1931 when future Hall of Famers Al Lopez and Ernie Lombardi played for Brooklyn.

With Jim Tracy gone, they might take another look at Milton Bradley because his bat was extremely valuable last year and he was a gold-glove candidate in center had he stayed healthy -- and kept his mouth shut. This guy is a potential all-star -- I wonder if they have considered Prozac?

Yhency Brazoban had a remarkable rookie season but burned out late in the year. He will be a good one and could be the stopper of the future if he comes up with a breaking pitch or a good change.

Jonathan Broxton, who is even younger than Brazoban, is also a stopper-in-waiting and could make the team right out of spring training.

Giovanni Carrara had performed his magic extremely well over the past few years but with all the good, young arms, it is time for him to move on.

Hee-Seop Choi will be given yet another chance because the young GM wants him to succeed but when they started feeding him off-speed pitches, his value dropped like buggy whip stock.

Jose Cruz Jr. finally got healthy and while he may not hit .301 again, he is in a position to either start or be a very strong fourth outfielder.

Elmer Dessens never pitched better than last season but at 34 and with a $1.3 million price tag, perhaps he should be traded.

J.D. Drew broke down again to the surprise of a very few, but when he his healthy he has power and the ability to get on base -- consistently. They're stuck with him unless he has a big year and then he can dump his contract and leave for greener pastures ... meaning more money.

Eric Gagne should never have been asked to pitch on a bum knee and it was no surprise when his arm said 'enough.' He should be ready in the spring but if the team isn't strong enough, he said he would take a hike when his contract ran out. And under the MB system [Money Ball], you don't pay big money to closers so fans should enjoy him while they can.

D.J. Houlton was a great pickup for $50M and is a young man. He has to pitch himself out of the rotation next year.

Cesar Izturis hit .340 early and .240 late but who knows if the sore throwing arm bothered his hitting? With his glove, .250 would be good enough but again, MB doesn't put much emphasis on fielding averages.

Edwin Jackson should have been put in the rotation and pitched until his arm fell off. Only a very few thought the team was going to run off 10-straight and get back into the lineup. They held Koufax back in 1957 and 1958 for much the same reasons and it cost them and him two more great years.

Ricky Ledee was signed as a backup outfielder and did a fine job when pressed into full-time service,

Derek Lowe seems to be looking over his shoulder at Boston longingly and $9 million is a bit pricey for a pitcher that seems to come alive only in September.

Dioner Navarro hit better in Los Angeles than he did in Las Vegas and should be around for a very long time.

Franquelis Osoria, Hong-Chic Kuo, Steve Schmoll all will have a solid shot at giving the club a Mod Squad bullpen.

Brad Penny had a solid year but wasn't a No. 1 guy. In fact, they didn't have a No. 1 guy all year, only three No. 3 starters.

Antonio Perez puzzled most of us. How could you not use a kid hitting .340 on a club that had trouble scoring runs? Yea, I know he couldn't field all that well, but he could have certainly been used more than he was.

Odalis Perez was a late addition to the staff after all the other free agent starters had asked for more money, were signed and left the cupboard bare. When right, he's good. When wrong, he's loud wrong.

Jason Phillips is a competent backup catcher but will cost more than Bako and will be moved. I'm seventy ... er, eighty .. well, plenty of years old and I could outrun him.

Jason Repko has still not proved he can hit major league pitching. If he could, he'd be an all-star.

Oscar Robles was perhaps the top gun last season, filling in very well at shortstop and surprising many with his bat. Funny how a talent like that can go unnoticed in the Mexican League.

Olmedo Saenz is a fine pinch-hitter and occasional regular but at his age he can't answer the call every day.

Duaner Sanchez is the modern day answer to Dr. Mike Marshall and might one season work in 100 games. An extremely valuable pickup.

Steve Schmoll will handle righthanded hitters for the club using his funky pitching motion and a 96 mph heater.

Jose Valentin was taken on as a stopgap third baseman and couldn't handle the job. Was never mistaken for Adrian Beltre, or even Tripp Cromer.

Jeff Weaver has led the club in wins over the last two seasons and has worked 200+ innings each year. Still, with a $9.5 million contract and Boras as his agent, has thrown his last pitch in Dodger Blue.

Jayson Werth had a remarkable, although short, season in 2004 and the big season predicted in 2005 disappeared when he broke his wrist. It's hard to say which one will surface in 2006.

Kelly Wunsch emphasized just how snake-bit the Dodgers were by tearing up his knee while warming up in the Colorado bullpen.

The Old Codger picked his suitcase up and started to step into his buggy when we asked him who would manage the club next year.

"I've already put in my application," he shouted back at me as he galloped off down the dusty road. "But if you're a bettin' man, put your money on Terry Collins."

We had filled the back of the envelope with his pearls of wisdom and faithfully transcribe them here for all of you to read. Agree with him or not, it was what he said, word for word.

We will contact him again after he consults on the New York and Boston porblems, unless, of course, he is the surprise selection as manager of the Dodgers.

In either event, stay tuned.

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