Dodgers fill Important Infield Slot

There will be a definite tint of red in Dodger Blue next season. GM Ned Colletti has struck again, signing five-time All-Star infielder Nomar Garciaparra to play first base and perhaps left field while batting fifth. Bill Mueller will man third base, Rafael Furcal shortstop and 2005 Dodger MVP Jeff Kent will stay at second base, giving the lineup a completely new face.

Garciaparra adds to the Boston Red Sox flavor in Los Angeles, joining owner Frank McCormick manager Grady Little, Derek Lowe and Mueller.

The Yankees, Astros and Indians were also interested in the 32-year-old Garciaparra but Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellum, said he chose to join the Dodgers. He still needs to take a physical and finalize contract details.

"He told me his thoughts, I told him my thoughts, and I didn't think our thoughts were that far off," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said after a meeting with the infielder twice last week about Garciaparra's defensive positioning. "He was amenable to doing whatever we needed him to do. He just wants to know, as any player would, how to prepare."

Garciaparra was considered one of baseball's best shortstops for several years while playing with the Sox, but his playing time was limited to 81 games in 2004 and 62 in 2005 because of Achilles tendon and groin muscle injuries, and he played only 21 games in 2001 because of a wrist injury.

However, he batted .338 in August and .311 in September last season, and had nine home runs and 26 RBI in those months after recovering from the injuries.

He's won two batting titles in 1999 and 2000 -- only one man in Dodger history has won the title twice, Tommy Davis in 1962-63 -- and before being injured had been a run-producing machine, driving in more than 95 runs in six different seasons.

He has a lifetime .320 average, has hit as many as 35 homers in a season and his resume boasts three postseason appearances with the Red Sox in addition to the American League Rookie of the Year award in 1997, when he also won the Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting shortstop in the American League.

Traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2004, he missed out on Boston's World Series championship three months later.

Former soccer star Mia Hamm (Mrs. Garciaparra) and Nomar have a home in Manhattan Beach, California, and Garciaparra grew up in nearby Whittier, a factor that probably factored into his decision.

The Dodgers see Garciaparra playing first base and then perhaps moving to the outfield when Cesar Izturis returns from Tommy John surgery in mid-summer. Izturis could play second and the Dodgers could shift Kent to first or they could use their surplus in a trade.

And the news gets even better.

The Dodgers appear to have a strong chance of landing free agents Reggie Sanders, who would play left field, and Kenny Lofton, who would play center. If the Dodgers sign both, Garciaparra then would play first base. If not, he could play left field.

Sanders and Lofton, both 38, were with San Francisco in 2002 when the Giants came tantalizingly close to winning the World Series while present Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was the Giants' assistant GM.

Sanders has received two-year offers from the Dodgers and at least two others clubs. His 15 seasons in the majors have been spent with seven different teams, all of them in the National League.

His last five years have produced home run totals of 33-23-31-22 and 21 while driving in 393 runs.

It is believed Sanders' preference is to sign with the Dodgers because he wants to play for an NL team on the West Coast and because of his history with Colletti.

Mike Powers, Sanders' agent said he hoped to make a decision within the next week and Reggie would know going into the holidays where he is going to play next year."

Lofton is believed to have narrowed his choices to the Dodgers and Diamondbacks and is willing to sign a one-year deal, but his decision is expected to hinge on playing time he would be allotted.

The Dodgers apparently would use him as their primary center fielder, but the left-handed hitter might share time there with Jose Cruz Jr. and Jason Repko and Jayson Werth.

And the hits just keep on coming.