Dodgers sign Nomar, close in on Lofton

Dodgers sign Nomar, close in on Lofton

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers' pre-holiday shopping frenzy continued Sunday when they confirmed the signing of free agent five-time All-Star Nomar Garciaparra and moved very close to landing free agent six-time All-Star Kenny Lofton.

Garciaparra, 32, will be the No. 5 hitter and first baseman in a dramatically rebuilt lineup. Lofton, 38, would probably bat second and replace center fielder Milton Bradley, who was traded to Oakland last week.

New general manager Ned Colletti previously signed Garciaparra's former Boston Red Sox teammate, Bill Mueller, to play third base, and former Atlanta Brave Rafael Furcal to bat leadoff and play shortstop, joining holdover All-Star second baseman and cleanup hitter Jeff Kent.

The Dodgers aggressively pursued Garciaparra for his bat, not his glove, needing protection in the lineup behind Kent, their only consistent run producer in 2005. With the trade of Bradley and uncertain recoveries of J.D. Drew and Jayson Werth from operations, Colletti has been equally concerned about shoring up the outfield, also pursuing free agent Reggie Sanders.

The top of the tentative Dodger lineup is now, in order, Furcal, Mueller, Drew, Kent and Garciaparra. If Lofton signs, he would likely bat second, with Mueller batting sixth after Garciaparra.

The signing of Garciaparra and pursuit of Lofton continue Colletti's approach in trying to return the Dodgers to contention in 2006 and beyond.

The new GM has filled holes with proven veterans signed to short-term contracts to improve the club immediately, while so far retaining for the future every prospect in a deep farm system. In theory, when the prospects are seasoned and ready, their paths won't be blocked by veterans with long-term commitments.

Garciaparra, a Southland native who lives in suburban Manhattan Beach with soccer star wife Mia Hamm, reportedly agreed to a one-year contract worth a base salary of $6 million and incentives that could increase the value to $8 million. He earned $8.25 million in 2005, playing third base for the Chicago Cubs. The deal is contingent on Garciaparra passing a physical.

For a Dodgers club that was decimated by injuries in 2005, Garciaparra has a fragile recent history. He was limited to 81 games in 2004 and 62 games in 2005 because of Achilles tendon and groin muscle injuries, respectively, after playing in only 21 games in 2001 because of a wrist injury.

But he also won batting titles in 1999 and 2000 and drove in more than 95 runs in six different seasons. Garciaparra has made three postseason appearances with the Red Sox and was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1997, when he won the Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting shortstop in a league that included Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs on July 31, 2004, missing out on Boston's world championship three months later.

Garciaparra is reunited with new Dodgers manager Grady Little, his Boston manager in 2002 and 2003, and former Red Sox teammates Mueller and Derek Lowe. He might also contribute to a bottleneck of infielders if and when Cesar Izturis returns from major elbow surgery, estimated around midseason, so playing the outfield is a possibility.

In addition to the Dodgers, Garciaparra was pursued by the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros.

Garciaparra's arrival makes Hee-Seop Choi and Jason Phillips expendable. They are the only two Dodgers eligible for salary arbitration and might not be offered contracts by the Tuesday deadline.

Lofton would be reunited with Colletti, having played briefly in 2002 for the San Francisco Giants when Colletti was assistant general manager there.

Lofton is a 14-year veteran with a .299 career batting average. He played 110 games, hit .335 and stole 22 bases for the Phillies in 2005. A six-time All-Star, Lofton has four Gold Gloves and five stolen base titles. His 567 steals make him the active career leader and 23rd overall in baseball history. He has nine postseason appearances.

Lofton is also being courted by the Baltimore Orioles and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He spent Friday meeting with Diamondbacks officials in Phoenix. He attended the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.