Change machine

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Yahoo! Sports: N.L. West Preview


VERO BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Kent pirouetted slowly in the Los Angeles Dodgers' clubhouse, carefully considering each name and number in the room.

"No. No. No," he said, crossing teammates off his mental list. "Right there."

He pointed toward Olmedo Saenz.

"Only one."

Actually, Kent was missing Brad Penny and Yhency Brazoban, but he made his point anyway: Kent has been with the Dodgers since 2005, and the only longer-tenured Dodgers than him are Saenz, who joined the team at the beginning of the 2004 season, plus Penny and the currently injured Brazoban, who came on midseason.

Even more stunning: Vin Scully, the Dodgers' radio broadcaster in his 58th year, has 17 years more service time than the team's entire 40-man roster, which, even when assigning a year to someone like Delwyn Young – who had five at-bats last season – still adds up to only 41 years.

The Dodgers are Team Transient, the epitome of what can happen when owners open their purse strings for a new general manager dissatisfied with what he inherited.

"I wasn't trying to rebuild the entire club," said Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who took over from Paul DePodesta following a 71-91 record in 2005. "It wasn't by design to remake 23/25ths. But at the same time, the game is always moving and players are always moving. And whether it's free agency or trades or retirements or releases, there's a constant shuffle."

More with the Dodgers than any team in baseball.

Three teams in the National League East – the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets and Florida Marlins – each have four survivors from '04. Most have hung onto six or seven players from that season, including the World Series champion Boston Red Sox, who have seven. Only four teams – the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros – cracked double digits, the Astros leading the way with as many as 14 when Brandon Backe returns from Tommy John surgery.

How much turnover makes sense is as divisive a philosophical question among baseball personnel as the meaning of life among the enlightened set. No answer is the same, and no answer is necessarily right.

"One thing we all agree on," Colletti said, "is that it hasn't turned into a Saturday-morning Rotisserie league."

Well, not totally at least.

Colletti certainly has picked and chosen a large segment of his roster. Left fielder Luis Gonzalez, center fielder Juan Pierre, shortstop Rafael Furcal, first baseman Nomar Garciaparra, starting pitchers Jason Schmidt, Randy Wolf and Brett Tomko, and relievers Takashi Saito and Joe Beimel signed as free agents over the last 18 months. Colletti traded for third baseman Wilson Betemit and pitcher Mark Hendrickson, relied on the Dodgers' loaded farm system for catcher Russell Martin, outfielder Andre Ethier and reliever Jonathan Broxton, and filled in the rest with spare parts.

The tinkering sent the Dodgers back to the playoffs as the wild card last year, and they are the favorite this season in a balanced NL West. Colletti played the tough free-agent market well this offseason, getting Schmidt and Wolf at manageable deals, overpaying for Pierre and hoping his gambles parlay into something more.

"Free agency is 30 years old," Colletti reminded. "My son is a great baseball fan, works in the industry. In his life of following baseball, he's never known it any other way. Is it different? Sure. But this process isn't new. It isn't like three years ago every team was loaded with Cal Ripkens or Tony Gwynns."

Such players are nearly extinct. Craig Biggio and John Smoltz are entering their 20th years with the Astros and Braves, respectively. Chipper Jones is in his 14th year with Atlanta. Only a dozen players have 10 years' service time with only one team.

"Look at me and Arizona," said Gonzalez, who bounced around with three teams before ending up with the Diamondbacks in 1999. "I was in Arizona for eight years and figured I'd finish my career there.

"It's just the way baseball works these days. Players move. Teams change. No one stays too long."

It's how the Dodgers got Lowe. After the Red Sox's championship, they chose not to hold onto Pedro Martinez or Lowe, who rode three series-clinching victories to a four-year, $36 million contract that now looks like a bargain. Since winning the World Series two years ago, the White Sox have overhauled their bullpen and traded 60 percent of their rotation. Even the reigning champion St. Louis Cardinals look markedly different following the departure of starters Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan.

Detroit, which lost only left-handed reliever Jamie Walker from last year's AL pennant-winning team, has become the exception.

And that, Kent believes, is how it should be.

He values the open market, even if the latest batch of contracts, he said, "borders on stupidity." As much as it allows teams to mix quick fixes with long-term solutions, free agency gives players a grand opportunity, too: pit winning versus money, with the knowledge that a winner can turn into a loser overnight while a contract never changes.

"You look at the franchise's ability to win and the money before you look at who's in the locker room," Kent said. "Because that can change at any moment."

He stuck out his hand once more, palm up, and fanned it 180 degrees along a wall of lockers. He'd seen plenty of change, all right. That's life with Team Transient.

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