THE TYPICAL BASEBALL TRADE of the '90s goes like this: A veteran
player, often past his prime and invariably lugging a hefty salary,
is unloaded for a couple of obscure, low-cost minor leaguers. The
trade is rumored for days, and when the deal is finally done, the
resultant impact is analyzed in a matter of $ seconds. Very boring.
Not so the trade made on Nov. 19, when the Montreal Expos sent
second baseman Delino DeShields to the Los Angeles Dodgers for
pitcher Pedro Martinez. Now that was a trade, as intriguing as it was
stunning. Two young, proven talents were swapped even-up. Money was a
factor, but the deal of the off-season was a trade of ability, not
As one observer, Philadelphia Phillie general manager Lee Thomas,
says, ''You have to go back a long way to find a trade like that.''
At least 25 years, anyway.
Reviewing all trades made in the last quarter century, one finds
that there was not a one-for-one deal involving proven major leaguers
age 25 and younger rivaling this one in terms of talent and
potential. On Dec. 8, 1977, the California Angels dealt second
baseman Jerry Remy to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Don Aase, and on
Oct. 18, 1973, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent second baseman Dave Cash
to the Phils for pitcher Ken Brett. None was older than 25 and all
were good players at the time, but neither deal was on a par with
DeShields for Martinez.
''It's the kind of trade you stay up nights thinking about,'' says
former Expo general manager Dan Duquette, who orchestrated the deal
for Montreal before becoming G.M. of the Red Sox in late January. At
a time when more and more ball clubs are slashing their payrolls and
attempting to build a contender through their farm systems rather
than the open market, teams have become increasingly reluctant to
deal young talent.
''It wasn't a trade for the mild-mannered,'' says Dodger general
manager Fred Claire. ''Dan and I talked about how we were going to
get killed ((in the public forum)) on this deal. It was safer not to
make the trade. But it made all the sense in the world.''
Pedro, the younger brother of L.A. starter Ramon Martinez and
still only 22, throws in the mid-90's. Among National League
relievers last year, he was tops in victories (10), tied for first in
strikeouts (113) and was second in batting average against (.187) --
as a rookie. ''He had as good an arm as we saw last year,'' says
Pittsburgh Pirate coach Rich Donnelly. ''Even if we'd had five
strikes against him, we couldn't have hit him.'' Primarily a starter
during his five years in the Dodger farm system, Martinez returns to
that role with the Expos this season.
The 25-year-old DeShields is a lifetime .277 hitter with 187
steals over four seasons. A former point guard who accepted a
basketball scholarship from ! Villanova before signing with the
Expos, he's one of the best overall athletes in the majors, with
tremendous speed and decent power. He'll be the Dodgers' leadoff
The roots of this trade reach from May 1992 when DeShields was in
a batting slump and L.A. prospect Eric Karros wasn't getting much
playing time at first base. The Dodgers did some research on
DeShields in contemplating a possible swap, but within a few weeks
DeShields got hot while Karros moved into a starting role and was on
his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year.
Then, at the end of last season, Montreal began looking around.
The Expos needed a righthanded starter, and they also had to move a
high-salaried player if they wanted to keep their 1994 payroll under
$20 million. DeShields was coming off a .295 season, and with Mike
Lansing (.287 as a rookie) a suitable replacement, the Montreal brass
decided DeShields was their most marketable asset.
Duquette narrowed his search for an inexpensive starting pitcher
to Martinez and Boston's Aaron Sele, who went 7-2 with a 2.74 ERA as
a rookie last year. Then Duquette zeroed in on the Dodgers, whose
needs were more compatible with what the Expos had to offer. He
approached Claire at the World Series last October, and again at a
meeting of general managers in November. Soon after, free-agent Jody
Reed foolishly turned down a three-year, $7.8 million offer to
re-sign with L.A. (he eventually signed a minor league contract with
the Milwaukee Brewers for a base salary of $350,000), and Claire
suddenly was looking for a second baseman.
Claire was hesitant to part with Martinez at first, offering other
players instead. Karros's name even resurfaced, but Duquette wanted
Martinez. Figuring there were enough up-and-coming reliever prospects
who could replace Martinez, including 1993 first-round draft pick
Darren Dreifort, Claire started to come around. After Duquette spoke
with L.A. manager Tommy Lasorda at the Gold Glove Award dinner in New
York on Nov. 18, the trade was made the next day.
''It broke our hearts to trade Delino,'' says Duquette, ''but we
had to get a starter, and there was an economic benefit.''
Martinez, who made $119,000 in '93 and signed for $200,000 on
March 2, won't be eligible for free agency until after the '98
season. DeShields, who signed a one-year, $2.7 million contract with
the Dodgers in January, can become a free agent after the '95 season.
In effect, the Expos traded two years of DeShields for five years
of Martinez. The Dodgers, with few payroll concerns, figure if
DeShields has two good seasons, they can sign him to a multiyear deal
when he's in his prime.
''I don't know why I was traded -- was it spite, was it money, or
was it to improve the club?'' DeShields says. ''I was prepared in a
way because I'd seen other guys traded while I was there. But deep
down, I always thought I'd be in Montreal.''
Martinez was shocked by the trade at first. ''They said I was the
future of the Dodgers,'' he says. ''I was the one guy coming out of
the minors who could be a starter. I could have been anything they
wanted me to be. Look at the pitchers in their rotation ((three
starters are 32 or older)). How much future do they have?''
Claire was right about one thing: Both general managers,
especially Duquette, were publicly blasted after the trade. Losing
their most recognizable player was hard on many Expo fans, but
Martinez won some of them back during the winter, when he brought his
infectious good spirit to the club's caravan tour of Canadian cities.
Now he wants so much to remain in Montreal that he says his goal in
'94 ''is to marry a French Canadian woman.''
''His stuff is as good as anyone's,'' Montreal manager Felipe Alou
says of his new hurler, who throws a slider and a changeup in
addition to the heat. The Expos aren't as concerned about Martinez's
slight 5 ft. 11 in., 160-pound build as the Dodgers were; two years
ago he weighed 138 pounds -- but still threw 90 mph. The Expos think
he can pitch 200 innings.
''Last year had to be more than 200 innings,'' says Martinez, who
pitched 107 innings in 65 appearances but warmed up on numerous other
occasions. ''Once I pitched three times in four days, then we went to
New York, and I thought, Am I going to have to pitch today too? I
did. And I threw harder than I did all year.''
Dodger fans were upset about losing an enormously popular pitcher
who averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings last year. (No L.A.
starter struck out as many as 10 in a game in '93.) But once the fans
began hearing good reports on DeShields, the trade became more
palatable to them.
In his first two big league seasons DeShields was a moody player
who struck out a lot (a league-high 151 times in '91), made stupid
errors and spent too much time arguing with umpires. But last year he
matured on and off the field, cutting down on his strikeouts (64) and
errors (11) and emerging as a team leader.
And so, at this stage, it looks as if the deal is one of those
''good for both teams'' arrangements. ''No one got hooked on that
trade,'' says the Phils' Thomas.
Nevertheless, San Diego Padre coach Merv Rettenmund thinks L.A.
got the better end of the deal, saying, ''DeShields might be the best
second baseman in the league.'' Yet Toronto Blue Jay general manager
Pat Gillick, noting the Dodgers dealt two other young arms, Tim
Belcher and John Wetteland, just two years earlier, says, ''It's odd
from L.A.'s standpoint. They've got a little age on that staff.''
Finally, baseball produced a trade that evoked passionate
''What was so interesting about this deal is that no one knew
about it beforehand except Dan and myself,'' Claire says. ''How many
trades are rumored about before they're made? As a G.M., this is the
way you want it: Boom! It's done.''