Major league baseball hit a solid 7 on the Richter scale last week with three trades involving four big-name stars, creating almost as much stir as if Johnny Carson had decided to switch networks.
Slugger George Foster moved from the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets and veteran second baseman Davey Lopes went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Oakland A's, while the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals swapped two of the game's top shortstops. In exchange for the Padres' Ozzie Smith, the Cards gave up Garry Templeton.
The Foster trade was perhaps the most eye-opening, because for the past six years George has been the most productive hitter in baseball, averaging 35 homers and 120 runs batted in per season. Foster will give the Mets gilt-edged protection in an area they haven't done well in for a long time - someone with power who can hit in back of Dave Kingman and in front of Ellis Valentine.
Now, with Foster waiting in the on-deck circle, whenever New York gets men on base, opposing managers won't be so apt to order their pitchers to work around Kingman. If this situation doesn't result in a lot more homers and RBIs for Kingman in 1982, someone in the Mets' front office is going to be awfully embarrassed.
To be sure that George can concentrate on his work and be free of financial worries, New York has made him baseball's second-highest-paid player (next to the Yankees' Dave Winfield), with a five-year contract reportedly worth $10 million when you add up all the complicated clauses.
What Cincinnati received in the Mets trade was this: a good defensive catcher in Alex Trevino (thus allowing Johnny Bench to move to third base); an experienced relief pitcher in Jim Kern; and a promising young starter in Greg Harris. Despite a 4.43 earned-run average last year with the Mets, Harris received extremely high marks from the Reds' scouting staff.
Although Foster was not due to become a free agent until after this season, Cincinnati had no intention of meeting his salary demands, which they considered excessive. This is also why the Reds, earlier this winter, allowed George's two outfield partners, Ken Griffey and Dave Collins, to sign big contracts with the Yankees.