It has already been a blockbuster of an off-season for baseball; among those changing address are 16 players with a total of 33 All-Star appearances. Here are the clubs that have benefited from the changes—and those that have not.
1) Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays parted with three of their best players—George Bell, Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff—and got better. For the past few years, this team has been unduly affected by the volatile Bell and the moody Fernandez. By sending Fernandez and McGriff to San Diego, the Jays got outfielder Joe Carter, with his surefire 100 RBIs, and second baseman Roberto Alomar, the best player in the deal. Toronto also traded erratic outfielder Junior Felix to the Angels for defensive whiz Devon White. Says California manager Doug Rader, "Defensively, the Blue Jays are so much better. Everyone says San Diego got the better of their trade. That's baloney." Even Padres G.M. Joe McIlvaine says, "Toronto came out of [the winter meetings] better than anyone."
2) Chicago Cubs. No one ever said that Bell couldn't produce runs, and he will in a big way as the Cubs' new leftfielder. With veterans Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson in control of the clubhouse, Bell can play more and talk less. With the addition of lefty starter Danny Jackson, the Cubs are the team to beat in the National League East.
December 17, 1990
3) San Francisco Giants. "They showed some guts—with their checkbook and by acting decisively," says McIlvaine. The Giants now have the league's premier centerfielder in Willie McGee. They also got Dave Righetti, who is past his prime but remains a capable closer, and Bud Black, whom Giants general manager Al Rosen bravely predicts will win more games than any free-agent pitcher.
4) Kansas City Royals. Free-agent Kirk Gibson will bring to the Royals a hunger and a meanness that this team has been missing. Adding righthander Mike Boddicker moves Tom Gordon to the bullpen, where he will be the best setup man in the league. And don't overlook new pitching coach Pat Dobson, who molded Mark Davis into a Cy Young winner in 1989 with San Diego. If Davis bounces back from his horrendous 1990, the Royals will challenge Oakland.
5) Los Angeles Dodgers. Darryl Strawberry is in for a monster year, and he alone can make a big difference. Kevin Gross will help the rotation, but look for the Dodgers to trade for a top-notch starting pitcher in the next month.
6) Atlanta Braves. Signing third baseman Terry Pendleton and first baseman Sid Bream solidifies the corners. But to finish higher than fifth, the Braves have to sign new-look free-agent outfielder Brett Butler, then trade outfielder Lonnie Smith for bullpen help.
1) Pittsburgh Pirates. They won last year because all their parts fit and all their little people produced. Now Bream has gone to Atlanta, and outfielder R.J. Reynolds has gone to Japan. If the Pirates are unable to re-sign free-agent catcher Don Slaught, first baseman Gary Redus and infielder Wally Backman, they could fall to fourth.
2) St. Louis Cardinals. They're going to finish sixth. Losing Vince Coleman, Ken Dayley and Pendleton to free agency, and pitcher John Tudor to retirement, assures that.
3) Houston Astros. Poor manager Art Howe. His owner, John McMullen, is selling the team and won't spend any money to improve it. Free-agents Bill Gullickson and Franklin Stubbs have departed, and Dave Smith and Danny Darwin will soon be gone. That leaves Howe with youth and maybe four major league pitchers.
4) Seattle Mariners. They can't afford expensive talent, but they certainly can't afford to do nothing. The Mariners still have three first basemen and a pitching staff full of holes.
5) New York Yankees. They lost in the bidding for Pendleton, and free-agent pitcher Steve Farr does not replace Righetti.