Torre not the only change this spring

Torre not the only change this spring

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers soon leave for Spring Training at Vero Beach. Nothing unusual there.

But that's where the usual ends for the Dodgers, who are about to embark on a Spring Training like no other in franchise history.

When they depart from Dodgertown in mid-March, they will be leaving forever. Barring delays in construction of a new Arizona facility they will share with the Chicago White Sox, the Dodgers will uproot after 61 years in Vero Beach, leaving behind not only a baseball facility, but a huge slice of the franchise's history.

But they will leave nonetheless, splitting their squad in March. Half will fly halfway around the world for a two-game exhibition series against the Padres in Beijing, China, the other half remaining briefly in Florida.

The two Dodgers squads will reunite in Arizona for a week of Cactus League exhibition games, then wrap up Spring Training with a three-game series against the Red Sox in Los Angeles, including a March 29 game at 90,000-seat Memorial Coliseum benefitting ThinkCure.

Oh, and did you hear about Joe Torre?

As if the spring agenda isn't scrambled enough, it will unfold while the Dodgers' new manager and a remodeled staff acclimates to an unfamiliar roster. The 67-year-old Torre takes over after Grady Little's sudden uncoupling, bringing his worthy resume to a club that finished in fourth place with a clubhouse in disarray.

In the respected Torre, the Dodgers believe there will be no repeat of last year's clubhouse turmoil that broke down along the lines of age. Of course, Torre's job has already been made much easier than that facing Little because most of the sour veterans have already been cut loose through the departures of 12 free agents.

"We didn't hire Joe Torre to finish .500," said general manager Ned Colletti.

As with all clubs, the Dodgers enter Spring Training with typical questions. Can Jason Schmidt still pitch after major shoulder surgery? Will Nomar Garciaparra or Andy LaRoche solve the riddle at third base? What will happen to Juan Pierre after the acquisition of Andruw Jones?

Much of the Spring focus will be on Torre, whose separation from the Yankees was even more bizarre than Little's. He accepted a three-year, $13 million contract at age 67, making him the oldest managerial hire in franchise history.

"Jack McKeon was 72 when we won the World Series in Florida," said starting pitcher Brad Penny.

Resident Hall of Fame former manager Tom Lasorda, who left the dugout at age 68 because of health reasons, believes Torre is the right man at the right time for the Dodgers.

"I think he's going to do great," said Lasorda. "He is a manager who commands total respect. He's a calming influence. He knows the game."

But in his limited discussions about the decisions he needs to make, Torre has conceded he will need a Spring Training for evaluation. Being in the American League, he's not very familiar with the Dodgers' young players, of which there are plenty in the midst of a youth movement.

Torre knows enough about Jones, the 10-time Gold Glove winner coming off the worst offensive season of his career. But Torre isn't alone in viewing new starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda as an unknown.

Jones and Kuroda are the two key acquisitions Colletti made, a slugger and a starter added without dealing away any of the core Major Leaguers or promising Minor Leaguers.

Colletti responded to Torre's request for pitching depth not only by signing Kuroda, but by bringing 34 pitchers to camp, including a crowd of non-roster contenders with Major League credentials like Chan Ho Park, Tanyon Sturtze, Mike Myers and Tom Martin.

"Last spring, we had eight starting pitchers and everybody thought it was too many," said Colletti. "In a hurry, we didn't have enough."

Despite the extra arms, the core of last year's bullpen returns just about intact, with closer Takashi Saito, setup right-hander Jonathan Broxton, situational lefty Joe Beimel and middle relievers Scott Proctor and Rudy Seanez.

Except for a decision between Schmidt and Esteban Loaiza for the fifth starter spot, Torre's rotation is set with Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Kuroda.

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