Ramirez complained toward the end of last season that playing the outfield wore down his legs. He seriously considered opting out of his contract to return to the American League for a designated-hitter role, but instead exercised a $20 million option to remain a Dodger when it was clear no other club would come close to that salary.
Torre played diplomat and sidestepped questions about the two big uncertainties heading into Spring Training: his fifth starter and starting second baseman. He wouldn't name a front-runner or eliminate any candidate, but did provide a few hints.
For the fifth starter, he said he would be "tempted" to use Scott Elbert out of the bullpen, that James McDonald could start or relieve, that Eric Stults has shown "flashes of something very special." Other candidates include Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, Rule 5 Draft pick Carlos Monasterios and reclamation project Russ Ortiz.
Torre also sounded intrigued by the Dodgers' interest in Chien-Ming Wang, currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery but once his Yankees ace. The Dodgers saw Wang throw on flat ground last week but believe he's three months or more away from pitching in a game.
"He was my leading pitcher two years in a row. You can't ignore the fact he's a special young man," said Torre. "With what he's coming back from, he has to be evaluated."
As for second base, Ronnie Belliard is assumed to be the incumbent, having started throughout the playoffs and just re-signed. Torre, though, was careful not to rule out Blake DeWitt or Jamey Carroll. Belliard, DeWitt or Carroll would be likely fill-ins for Blake at third if they are not starting.
"The kid [DeWitt] had a rough year," Torre said, referring to DeWitt's six callups. "We'll give him a fair shot over there. Carroll, I don't know a great deal about, but [hitting coach Don] Mattingly and our scouts like him a lot. Belliard, you certainly know how much I trusted him at the end."
Torre reiterated general manager Ned Colletti's comments that the signing of Johnson was important because of his versatility to play all three outfield positions and indicated that the Dodgers could carry four outfielders and eight infielders, making Jason Repko's chances of making the team slim.
"Right now, we'll go into Spring Training with an excess of infielders," he said.
Torre said he spoke by phone with Ramirez last week.
"He seems anxious to get started," Torre said. "Last year, missing 50 games [to a drug suspension], his biggest problem was having trouble recovering from coming back in cold. It's not easy to do, especially on a first-place team, taking somebody out of the lineup like Juan Pierre. He felt a lot of pressure and fought himself a lot."
Torre said his representatives have had two conversations with the Dodgers about extending his contract, but nothing has been resolved. Colletti said earlier Torre might manage through 2011 (his current contract expires after this season), then move into a front-office advisory role.