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Monday, December 11
Dreifort's return gives Dodgers strong staff news services

DALLAS -- Darren Dreifort signed a $55 million, five-year contract Monday to stay with Los Angeles, giving the Dodgers a formidable pitching rotation.

Dreifort joins ace Kevin Brown, Chan Ho Park, free-agent pickup Andy Ashby and Eric Gagne. Ashby agreed to a $22.5 million, three-year deal last week as the Dodgers try to improve on an 86-76 record and second-place finish in the NL West.

"Signing Darren has been our No. 1 priority since the season ended," Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone said. "He has displayed tremendous ability and development and has the potential to be a No. 1 starter in the future."

Dreifort became the fourth Los Angeles player with an average salary of more than $11 million a year. Brown makes $15 million, Shawn Green $14 million and Gary Sheffield more than $11.4 million.

But that hasn't been much help in recent years for the Dodgers, who haven't made the playoffs since being swept by the Braves in the 1996 division series.

The Dodgers finished 11 games behind San Francisco last season despite a payroll of $94,224,580 -- third highest in baseball. Manager Davey Johnson was fired after the season.

Dreifort went 12-9 with a 4.16 ERA last season -- his first above .500 season in three years as a starter. He is 39-45 with a 4.28 ERA in his six-year career, but many people in baseball believe he has the potential to be a top-flight starter. Dreifort made $3.7 million in 2000.

The Colorado Rockies had been the Dodgers' biggest competition for keeping Dreifort, but their recent signings of pitchers Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle to contracts totaling $172.5 million might have affected their ability to compete with the Dodgers' bid.

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