The number of hours major league baseball executives devote to trying to make trades during the Hot Stove League winter season is staggering! For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers spent nearly two weeks negotiating with the Texas Rangers for catcher Jim Sundberg. The deal misfired, not because the teams couldn't agree on the players to be exchanged, but because of the complexity of Sundberg's contract, which the Dodgers felt would put them in a bind.
No wonder general managers looking to make a change ask first to see the player's contract instead of his statistics! That is why, in just two years, the number of players moved at the annual winter meetings dropped from 59 to 26. However, certain teams are still willing to pay enormous sums to sign free agents.
After weeks of talks with the Yankees, Astros, Cubs, Giants, and Padres, free agent first baseman Steve Garvey (who had been with the Dodgers for 12 years) finally signed a five-year contract with San Diego. Garvey reportedly will receive a base salary totaling $6.6 million over the length of the pact, plus bonus incentives that could drive that figure as high as $9 million.
San Diego, a .500 team that finished eight games out of first place in the National League West last season, is now an instant contender because of Garvey, according to Manager Dick Williams. Yet Steve is probably still wrestling with some of the same personal problems that many blame for the way his his hitting has been short-circuited over the past two years.
After signing free agent Steve Kemp to a multi-year $6.1 million contract, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner now has nine outfielders on his roster at a total cost of around $7.5 million per year.
What the experts are wondering is how Kemp, a left-hander who seldom pulls the ball in a park made for southpaw pull hitters, can maintain the high home run and RBI figures (19 and 98) that he had last season with the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees may also be making a mistake if they ask Steve, whose best position is left field, to suddenly shift to right.
The Philadelphia Phillies, in what was viewed as a quick move to gain parity in their division with the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals, have traded with the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Von Hayes. The Phillies gave up second baseman Manny Trillo and outfielder George Vukovich plus three young minor-league prospects for Hayes, who has a chance to be an outstanding power hitter.
To compensate for the loss of Trillo, Philadelphia sent starting pitcher Mike Krukow to San Francisco for second baseman Joe Morgan and relief pitcher Al Holland. Morgan, a former two-time NL MVP with Cincinnati who is now 39, still hit .289 last year in 135 games with the Giants.
The Morgan deal was made without the approval of San Francisco Manager Frank Robinson, who is also trying to get the club to bring back first baseman Reggie Smith. Robinson says that despite reports to the contrary, he has talked with Reggie and Smith has not actually signed a contract yet to play in Japan.
Floyd Bannister, the free-agent left-handed pitcher everyone wanted, suddenly decided that he preferred the White Sox to the Yankees, although the money was believed to be the same. Even though Bannister's lifetime won-lost record is an unimpressive 51-68, he has always pitched well for relatively weak teams while learning his craft and was the American League's strikeout leader last year with Seattle.
Once the Boston Red Sox discovered that third baseman Carney Lansford (one year away from free agency) was serious about asking for $7 million for the next five years, they traded him to the Oakland A's. In return the Red Sox got outfielder Tony Armas and catcher Jeff Newman.
Now Boston can't wait to see whether Wade Boggs, who hit .349 last year in 104 games, has the arm, the range, and the instincts to play third base regularly and provide consistency behind Armas at the plate.
In what might turn out to be no more than a sentimental journey, the New York Mets have brought veteran right-hander Tom Seaver (amid rumors of arm problems) back to Shea Stadium. Even though Seaver has for years been one of baseball's best pitchers, he started only 21 games last season with Cincinnati. Yet despite the fact that he won only five games, didn't complete any, and finished with a 5 .50 earned-run average, the Mets gave him a new contract with a $300,000 raise.
The Houston Astros, who haven't had a centerfielder they could trust defensively since they traded Cesar Cedeno, have signed free agent Omar Moreno to a multi-year contract. The fleet outfielder was always a threat on the bases with Pittsburgh and usually ranked among the league leaders in steals.His batting average dropped to .245 last year after he had hit .276 in 1981, however , and he's struck out 100 or more times in five of his last six seasons.
Pittsburgh will replace Moreno with Lee Mazzilli, who was acquired from the Yankees for four minor league players.
These are some of the bigger names who will be wearing different uniforms next season, and, of course, several lesser lights have also changed their major league addresses.
As for financial fireworks, the next big ones should be the upcoming contract talks between the Dodgers and their ace pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. Although Valen-zuela won 19 games last year, he is no longer a novelty at the box office. The feeling here is that the tug-of-war will eventually go to arbitration.