Drew surprises LA, becomes free agent
Team RBI leader exercises escape clause in contract
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers essentially swapped 100 RBIs for $33 million Thursday when right fielder J.D. Drew exercised an escape clause to void the final three years of his $55 million contract and became a free agent.
Drew's agent, Scott Boras, said the move was a "business decision" and that Drew would like to discuss a new contract with the Dodgers.
General manager Ned Colletti said he was "surprised" and "disappointed" with the decision and was clearly annoyed, although Colletti paraphrased Boras as saying in a Monday meeting that there was a possibility this would happen and confirmation was faxed to Colletti Thursday.
Colletti said there was no request for a contract extension and sounded as if he had no desire to retain Drew.
"He moved on and we'll move on," he said. "We'll find a player who wants to stay here. Scott broached [the opt-out] and I said if that's what you decide to do ... I'm finished with it.
"In light of what J.D. said at the end of the year, about making a commitment and how much he loved playing here, I was surprised. J.D.'s a man of his word. I guess he changed his word. I think you expect things to be handled in a certain way. Based on what was written at the end of the season, you have to ask yourself, 'How did this happen?'"
Boras said it was a "business decision" to opt out, but that Drew was "very happy" playing for the Dodgers and wanted to continue discussions with the club.
"He would like to come back, and they can re-sign him," said Boras, who relayed that message to Colletti on Thursday night.
While the decision leaves the club short the team-high 100 RBIs Drew had in 2006, it also bolsters the war chest to chase high-profile free-agent targets like Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Jason Schmidt and Boras clients Barry Zito and Greg Maddux.
Drew was signed to the five-year, $55 million contract by former general manager Paul DePodesta after the 2004 season, but included was a provision that would allow the left-handed hitter to leave after two seasons.
At the time, conspiracy theorists suggested that Boras had outmaneuvered the Dodgers by taking then-free agent Adrian Beltre to Seattle, which created an opening in the Dodgers' lineup that could be filled by Drew, who was finding free-agent offers hard to come by.
Now those theorists are likely to believe that Boras is confident he will find a new home for Drew -- like San Diego, where DePodesta now works -- while creating enough payroll flexibility for the Dodgers to assure they can land Zito and Maddux.
But Colletti, already on the prowl for a potent bat, now must also replace Drew's.
"He led the club in RBIs. You don't just snap your fingers and find another player like that," said Colletti. "You don't go to the rotisserie room in the basement and pull a name out and say he's on your team."
"We were looking to improve the offense and starting pitching and now, with this, it's more incumbent upon us to make sure we have enough offense," Colletti said. "There aren't an overabundance of [free-agent] hitters. We'll have to be creative [through trades] or let the kids come from within.
"Do we have more flexibility? Yeah. It opens up payroll room the next three years, but it doesn't change the number of options out there. It does change what we have to spend."
Among the free-agent hitters are Soriano, Carlos Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Gary Matthews Jr., Moises Alou, Jim Edmonds and Luis Gonzalez, although the Yankees are likely to trade Gary Sheffield, if not Alex Rodriguez.
Colletti also said Drew's decision could impact the club's interest in retaining free agent Nomar Garciaparra. He also listed in-house outfield options of Matt Kemp, James Loney (a first baseman who has played a handful of games in the outfield) and free agent center fielder Kenny Lofton.
Colletti praised manager Grady Little's handling of Drew, which nursed a career-high 146 games out of the right fielder after he was limited to only 72 in his first Dodgers season, which was ended by a broken wrist.
In 2006, Drew also tied for the team high with 20 home runs, hit .283, and had team highs with 89 walks, 34 doubles and a .393 on-base percentage. He went 2-for-13 in the playoffs against the Mets.
Drew, who turns 31 later this month, is no stranger to surprising and contentious decisions. He was the second player taken in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies, but only after protesting that the draft was unfair and warning all teams it would take $10 million to sign him.
He held out the entire season and took Major League Baseball to an arbitration hearing over the legality of the draft, but finally re-entered the draft the following year, when the Cardinals made him the fifth overall pick and gave him a four-year deal worth $7 million guaranteed.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.