J.D. Drew opts out of contract
"He led the club in RBIs. You just don't snap your fingers and find another player like that," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said on a conference call. "He wants out, he can have out. He's moving on, we're moving on. We'll find players who like playing here. If he doesn't want to be here, he has the right to leave, and he's exercising that right."
Colletti said he was told Monday by Scott Boras, Drew's agent, that this move was a possibility. Then, Colletti said, he awoke Thursday to find a message on his cell phone from Boras giving him the news, which he received officially by fax in the afternoon.
"You learn in this business never to be surprised," Colletti said. "I'm surprised how it came down. Everything we had heard, everything that had been written led us to believe the player loved being here."
Drew, who turns 31 this month, hit .283 with 20 homers and 100 RBIs last season -- his second with the Dodgers. He signed a five-year, $55 million contract on Dec. 23, 2004, and had been guaranteed $33 million over the next three years with Los Angeles.
"It was a business decision," Boras said. "The demand for a five-tool defender, a 25-homer guy, a guy who can drive in 100 runs is pretty clear in today's marketplace."
Drew was limited to 72 games by injuries in his first year with the Dodgers, hitting .286 with 15 homers and 36 RBIs. Previously, he played with St. Louis from 1998-03 and Atlanta in 2004, where he batted a career-best .305 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs.
He has until Saturday to file for free agency.
"After looking at the needs of the clubs, a lot of clubs we felt needed offensive players," Boras said.
Colletti said he hasn't spoken with Drew since Oct. 6 -- after the Dodgers were eliminated by the New York Mets in the first round of the playoffs.
"The last time I spoke with him, we had a nice conversation," Colletti said. "I don't really need to (speak to Drew) at this point."
While Colletti refused to say he was angry, his feelings came through during a 30-minute conference call.
"I hang onto my feelings," Colletti said. "You try to use some diplomacy right now."
But the GM also said: "I know J.D. is a spiritual guy and a man of his word. I guess he changed his word. You learn never to be surprised when you're dealing in this arena. People change their minds. People change their word. They move on."
Colletti said Boras never asked for Drew's contract to be re-negotiated. The contract called for Drew to earn $11 million in each of the next three years. Paul DePodesta was the Dodgers' GM when Drew signed with the team.
"I told (Colletti) there was a strong demand in the marketplace for guys with J.D.'s skills," Boras said. "They never made any proposals to us. I let them know we would be open to listening."
Asked about his relationship with Boras, Colletti replied: "Scott does a real good job of what he does. I've known Scott for a long time. All I'll say is he does a really good job of what he does."
Colletti said he thought Drew and manager Grady Little had an excellent relationship.
"I think Grady managed him very well, gave him time off when he needed it, kept him healthy," Colletti said. "He's a middle-of-the-order bat, very gifted player. I don't think this team wins without everyone who participated this year, who contributed, and that includes J.D."
The Dodgers earned just their fourth playoff berth since 1988, winning the NL wild card.
Drew was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, but with Boras as his agent, he refused to sign with them. The Cardinals later picked him and a contract agreement was reached.
"J.D. was very happy in Los Angeles. He liked the players. He liked the team. ... He's not opposed to going back," Boras said. "We let the Dodgers know we're interested in returning and discussing a new contract. Obviously, it was something we had to do in free agency."
But Colletti, who said the Dodgers were already in search of offensive help during the offseason, didn't sound interested.
"It opens up payroll, certainly, for the next three years," he said. "It doesn't change the options out there. There's only one more player out there, one we're not going to pursue. It does change how much money we have."
First baseman Nomar Garciaparra is a free agent. Colletti didn't deny that Drew's opting out of his deal might change the Dodgers' approach with Garciaparra, adding that young first baseman James Loney, impressive late last season, could play the outfield as well.
Matt Kemp, who showed promise last season, is another outfield prospect.
"We've got some good young players here," Colletti said. "I'm glad we have the good young players we've got."
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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