In the last few years the winter meetings have been baseball's answer to the office Christmas party: a lot of drinks and a lot of promises that were broken the morning after. But last week when the barons of the sport gathered in Dallas, they actually did something.
There were more players traded (43) at the '87 convention than at any other since 1980, which coincidentally also happened to be at the Loews Anatole Hotel. The Red Sox acquired one of the game's premier relievers in Lee Smith of the Cubs. The Athletics got the Dodgers' Bob Welch, the ace starter they desperately needed. Dave Parker, Alfredo Griffin, Jesse Orosco, Jay Howell and Phil Bradley were traded, and although the biggest deal of all—Detroit's sending Kirk Gibson to Los Angeles for Pedro Guerrero—was called off, it could be resurrected with a phone call.
Some teams helped themselves significantly in Dallas, while others stepped backward. Here are the big winners and losers:
Boston. The bullpen was the worst in baseball last season, with a total of 16 saves and a 4-19 record in games tied entering the seventh inning. The Sox approached the meetings thinking they would have to build a bullpen by committee. But then Smith fell into the lap of general manager Lou Gorman. He and Cubs G.M. Jim Frey did the deal in about an hour: Smith for pitchers Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi. True, Schiraldi has the stuff to be a big winner as a starter, and Smith does have a chronic knee problem. But Smith has also been the best short man in baseball for the past five years, compiling 162 saves, and the Cubs didn't even bother to shop him around. Smith should have the same effect on Boston that Jeff Reardon had on Minnesota last year. His acquisition also makes it almost imperative that manager John McNamara get off to a good start in '88. The Fenway Park phone lines were jammed within minutes of the announcement. "Most of the callers thought it was a cruel practical joke," said Red Sox marketing director Larry Cancro.
Oakland. The Athletics became an instant favorite in the AL West with the acquisition of Parker, Welch and reliever Matt Young. Parker's attitude may have decayed in Cincinnati, but he should be reborn with this young club, sandwiched in the order between Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. Welch gives the A's a legitimate No. 1 starter, which should make the other starters (Curt Young, Dave Stewart and Storm Davis) that much more effective. Oakland still has some questions, particularly at shortstop, where rookie Walter Weiss will try to replace Griffin, and in the bullpen, where Eric Plunk and Matt Young will try to be the closers.
Cincinnati. A lot went wrong in '87 for the team that was supposed to be the NL West's next superpower. There was friction in the clubhouse and throughout the organization. But the biggest reason the Giants blew past the Reds was that San Francisco G.M. Al Rosen did something about his pitching problems, while the Reds did nothing about theirs. In the Royals' Danny Jackson and Oakland's Jose Rijo, the Reds have acquired two extraordinarily gifted pitchers who have yet to win consistently. Jackson, 25, is a better bet to blossom than Rijo, but then Rijo is only 22.
Philadelphia. There were two risks for the Phillies in trading rightfielder Glenn Wilson and pitcher Michael Jackson to the Mariners for outfielder Phil Bradley: Jackson could develop into a frontline reliever, and Bradley, who complained about the gentle Seattle press, may not respond well to the salvos from the tough Philly media. But last year Bradley had an on-base percentage of .387 (12th in the league), 62 extra-base hits (one more than Eddie Murray) and 40 stolen bases. The lineup suddenly looks formidable, with Bradley leading off for Juan Samuel, Von Hayes, Mike Schmidt et al.
Cleveland. The Indians' brass decided that the team had enough pitching, despite last year's 5.28 team earned run average. The staff consists basically of Greg Swindell, Tom Candiotti and a few kids. The Indians refused to trade third baseman Brook Jacoby, then belatedly tried to acquire a couple of pitchers for part-timers Mel Hall and Pat Tabler. Cleveland refuses to let second-division reality get in the way of its first-division hallucination.
Los Angeles. "The meetings were Fred Claire's Nightline," wrote one observer, referring to the Waterloo of Claire's G.M. predecessor, Al Campanis. Claire was publicly ripped by other club officials for being "unprepared" and "unprofessional." The Dodgers ended up trading Welch, Young and a good young reliever (Jack Savage) for Griffin, a 31-year-old (or older) shortstop with his left thumb in a cast; Howell, a sore-armed reliever; and Orosco, who carries a $1 million contract and was available for the asking.
Toronto. It wasn't that G.M. Pat Gillick didn't try. He thought he had Welch for shortstop Manny Lee and pitcher Dave Stieb, but the Dodgers changed their minds. Then he thought he had Welch for slugger Jesse Barfield and reliever Mark Eichhorn. Then he failed to pry Jacoby loose. Finally, a deal with the Yankees fell through: catcher Ernie Whitt and reliever David Wells for pitching prospect Al Leiter, outfielder Roberto Kelly and catcher Joel Skinner. Gillick knows he has to do something. He still could get catcher Jody Davis from the Cubs for Stieb.
The Dallas meetings also brought the first major trade—ever!—between the Mets and Yankees; the Mets sent shortstop Rafael Santana and a minor leaguer to the Bronx in exchange for three prospects.
While some players were getting new zip codes, others were looking for them. Don Sutton, the winner of 321 games, hung around the hotel lobby trying to peddle his services; the Twins seemed interested. And Bob Horner, who has already turned down a three-year, $10 million offer from Japan and a one-year, $800,000 offer from the Braves, was paraded around by his agent, Bucky Woy. Horner was easy to spot in the lobby—he was the one who looked like John Candy. The Rangers expressed interest in signing Horner, but right after owner Eddie Chiles and president Mike Stone were assured that Horner was getting in shape, they spied him in the hotel's Mexican restaurant, standing in the all-you-can-eat line.