Dodgers Sign Japanese Pitcher

The Dodgers signed Japanese RHP Takashi Saito to a minor league deal. Saito, who will be 36 on Valentine's Day, pitched principally as a starter for the Yokohama Bay Stars up through 2004, though his best ERA year came in 2001 when he was used exclusively in relief, with a 1.67 ERA. He pitched 106 innings in relief last year, with a 3.82 ERA and a 3-4 record, collecting 93 strikeouts while only giving up 29 walks.

Saito signed a Minor League contract and will be invited to Major League training camp.

Saito is was a four-time All-Star. He was 3-4 with no saves and a 3.82 ERA in 21 games in 2005, with 93 strikeouts in 106 innings.

"Takashi Saito is a very versatile pitcher who has been a starter, reliever and closer," said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti. "We believe his experience over 14 years in Japan will give him the opportunity to make the Dodgers in 2006."

"I'm thrilled that my dream of signing with a major league organization came true," said Saito, 35. "I'm sure the competition will be fierce to make the opening-day roster. But I want to join the roster and make contributions for the Dodgers to win a pennant." Saito left the Yokohama BayStars after posting a 3-4 record with a 3.82 ERA in 21 games in 2005, the last of his three-year contract with the Central

Saito is the fifth player from Japan acquired by the Dodgers since the team first signed pitcher Hideo Nomo to a contract in 1995. The others are left-handed pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii, right-handed pitcher Masao Kida and infielder Norihiro Nakamura.

Saito brings the total of non-roster players invited to camp to 17.
Takashi Saito     tr  bl  6-1  191
B-Feb. 14, 1970
year   team    w-l  sv era  gm  in  so 
1992 Yokohama  0-2  0  8.44  6  16  21
1993 Yokohama  8-10 0  3.81 29 149 125
1994 Yokohama  9-12 0  3.13 28 181 169
1995 Yokohama  8-9  0  3.94 26 162 132
1996 Yokohama 10-10 0  3.29 28 197 206
1998 Yokohama 13-5  1  2.94 34 144 101
1999 Yokohama 14-3  0  3.95 26 185 125
2000 Yokohama  6-10 0  5.52 19 116  97
2001 Yokohama  7-1 27  1.67 50  65  60
2002 Yokohama  1-2 20  2.45 39  48  46
2003 Yokohama  6-7  0  4.18 39 103  72
2004 Yokohama  2-5  0  7.71 16  44  37
2005 Yokohama  3-4  0  3.82 21 106  93
Angels Looking at Weaver-- The Anaheim Angels have expressed serious interest in free-agent pitcher Jeff Weaver, but a deal to sign the former Los Angeles Dodger right-hander could hinge on Weaver's willingness to accept a short-term contract. Weaver, who went 14-11 with a 4.22 ERA for the Dodgers last season, was originally seeking a deal in the four-year, $45 million range.

After rejecting arbitration, Weaver told the Dodgers he'd sign a three-year, $27 million deal with a fourth-year vesting option, but a Jan. 8 deadline passed without an agreement, and Weaver became a free agent.

According to several sources, the most the Angels are willing to offer Weaver is a one-year deal with an option for 2007, because the team doesn't want to block the paths of prospects such as Jered Weaver, Jeff's younger brother, and Joe Saunders, who could both compete for rotation spots this spring.

The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets also are believed to be interested in Jeff Weaver, but the Simi Valley native's desire to remain in Southern California could give the Angels the edge.

Culver with Cal State Bakersfield-- Former major league pitcher and longtime Bakersfield resident George Culver will spearhead California State University, Bakersfield's effort to bring baseball to CSUB. Culver's appointment to the fundraising team working to move CSUB's athletics program to NCAA Division I .

CSUB is raising $6 million to fund the move to Division I athletics. Culver will be working to raise $2.5 million of that total to fund the baseball program.

A right-handed pitcher, Culver grew up in Bakersfield and graduated from North High School in 1961. He pitched for two years at Bakersfield College before being drafted by the New York Yankees in 1963.

He struck out 18 in one of his first professional games, and made his major league debut in 1966 with the Cleveland Indians. During his nine-year career, in which he compiled a 48-49 record and saved 23 games, he also pitched for the Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.

In 1968, as a starter for the Reds, he pitched a no-hitter against the Phillies. From 1970 on, he was a long reliever, and often led his club in appearances.

After his playing career was over, he managed for a year in the California League, then spent 18 years with the Phillies as a coach and manager in their minor-league system, managing teams at both the AA and AAA level.

He joined the Dodgers as a pitching instructor in 2001, resigning after the 2005 season in order to be able to take this job if it became available, "He said. "Luck enough for me it did. For me, it's an ideal situation because I'm at home and working for something I think will be special."

Garvey Hopeful-- Steve Garvey spoke at the first-ever New Bern River Rats hot stove banquet at the New Bern Riverfront Convention Center recently. His nearly hour-long speech was bookended by enthusiastic standing ovations, the first before he even opened his mouth.

Garvey, who hit .294 and collected 2,599 hits during his 19-year career, said he'd love to have the same prefix attached to his name as many of his peers.

Since he became eligible for the Hall in 1993 and got 41.6 percent of the vote that year, his vote total has declined gradually, bottoming out at 20.5 percent in 2005 but scooting up to 26 percent this year. Garvey said he stands his best chance when the vote goes to the veterans committee after next year.

"Hopefully, my peers will recognize he career I had," he said.

Kent Expanding-- Kent Powersports LP, a motorcycle dealership owned by Dodger secondbaseman Jeff Kent, recently received $6.3 million in financing to expand its two locations in San Antonio.

The dealership groups currently owns Yamaha of San Antonio, the largest-volume selling Yamaha dealership in Texas, and 35 North Honda in New Braunfels, which sells motorcycles, ATVs, scooters and watercraft.

"This deal allows us to take advantage of a growing market," says Kent, who plays second base for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "The funding is helping us grow our business."

Praise for Colletti-- Ken Rosenthal of FOX had nice things to say about the Dodgers GM Ned Colletti. He wrote:

"The Dodgers' Ned Colletti pulled off a difficult feat in his first two months as a general manager: He protected one of the game's top farm systems while fixing the major league club.

"Unlike the Angels, the Dodgers couldn't simply wait for their youngsters to emerge. The Dodgers are coming off a 71-91 season, their worst since 1992 and second worst since moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

"Colletti surely was tempted to unload prospects for veterans; that frequently was the Giants' approach when he was their assistant G.M. Instead, he signed free agents to short-term deals, buying time while trying to compete in the mediocre N.L. West.

"In his hectic first eight weeks on the job, Colletti hired a manager and coaching staff, signed six free agents and made three trades. His only prospects-for-veterans move was his trade of pitchers Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany to the Devil Rays for relievers Danys Baez and Lance Carter.

"Colletti moved swiftly to sign free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, overpaying at $13 million per season but restricting the term to three years. He gave two-year deals to free-agent third baseman Bill Mueller and righthander Brett Tomko. His other free-agent additions signed for one year.

"The Dodgers will open the season with a payroll of about $100 million, a figure that likely is a shock to former G.M. Paul DePodesta; some expected owner Frank McCourt to drop the payroll into the $70 million range. But the arrivals of several top prospects will help balance future payrolls.

"Like the Angels, the Dodgers figure to get stronger down the road." --Rosenthal is senior baseball writer. His Insider column is special to The Sporting News.