Dodgers Welcome Garciaparra Back

With the escalating cost of front line free agents approaching the Gross National Product of a small European country and the fact that J.D. Drew abruptly left the club to search for gold, the Dodgers quickly assured themselves of Nomar Garciaparra's big bat by signing him to a two-year $18 million contract.

The Dodgers declined -- hopefully with a straight face -- to match the Cubs eight-year, $136 million offer for Alfonso Soriano, who also reported he did not want to play for a West Coast team.

Garciaparra earned the "Comeback Player of the Year Award" when he hit .303 with 20 homers and 93 RBI, and he was named an All-Star for the fifth time. But injuries contributed to an slump which saw him hit .358 before the All-Star break with 11 homers and 53 RBI to .299 afterwards when he posted nine homers and 40 runs batted in.

Garciaparra, who will be 34 in 2007, went on the disabled list twice in 2006 -- with a strained ribcage muscle in April and a sprained right knee ligament in late July. Down the stretch he soldered through during September with a pulled quad that finally knocked him out of the Division Series with the Mets in game two.

Garciaparra joined the Dodgers after various injuries limited him to 81 games in 2004 and 62 games in 2005. A five-time All-Star at shortstop, he mastered the first base position, making only four errors and his fielding percentage tied him for second among N.L. first basemen.

There has been some talk about Garciaparra moving to third base to make room for rookie James Loney at first base but club officials say Garciaparra probably will remain at first base.

The Los Angeles native ranked among the National League leaders in batting average with runners in scoring position (.368, fifth), average against left-handers (.341, tied for third) and grand slams (2, tied for second) during the 2006 season.

He struck out only once every 17.4 plate appearances, second in the National League had a 22-game hitting streak from June 16 to July 13, tying him for 16th on the list of Brooklyn/Los Angeles streaks.

Garciaparra hit .341 against lefthanded pitchers and .324 with nine homers and 47 RBI at home. And on Sept. 18, he put the cherry on the cake when he slugged a game-winning, two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning after the Dodgers tied a Major League record with four consecutive homers in the ninth inning (Jeff Kent-J.D. Drew-Russell Martin and Marlon Anderson).

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