Dodgers Pay a Big Price (Welch) to Improve : They Get a Shortstop and Two Relief Pitchers
Bleary-eyed but clearly seeing a better future, Executive Vice President Fred Claire of the Dodgers completed a three-way trade with the Oakland A’s and the New York Mets early Friday morning, fulfilling the team’s persistent pursuit of an everyday shortstop and a proven relief pitcher.
Six days after his arrival at the winter baseball meetings and almost two days after the meetings had officially ended, Claire emerged shortly after 2 a.m. with two potential bullpen closers--left-hander Jesse Orosco and right-hander Jay Howell--and a former Gold Glove and All-Star shortstop, Alfredo Griffin.
The complicated transaction cost the Dodgers their senior player in point of service, pitcher Bob Welch; left-handed relief pitcher Matt Young, and pitching prospect Jack Savage.
It also figures to set off a chain reaction that could produce an entirely new infield.
Manager Tom Lasorda said he wouldn’t confirm that because of his desire to discuss any possible moves with his players first, but apparently the plan is to move left fielder Pedro Guerrero to first base, beleaguered shortstop Mariano Duncan to a more natural second base and second baseman Steve Sax to third base, where his suspect arm would be removed from the middle of double plays and he would be required to cover less ground.
The plan may have to be changed if the proposed deal that would have sent Guerrero to the Detroit Tigers for Kirk Gibson resurfaces, which apparently is a possibility, a club executive hinted.
Claire said only that he next intends to address an offense that was last in the National League in team batting and runs scored.
He and Lasorda, however, were either too tired or too enthusiastic over the trade that was officially announced at 9 a.m. Friday to look too far beyond their flight home.
“We’ve filled the holes that we desperately needed to fill,” Lasorda said. “The last two years, we’ve had a very, very poor bullpen and a very, very poor defense.
“We tried every way possible not to deal Welch, but it couldn’t be done. He was the pitcher everyone wanted, and we had to improve our defense and bullpen.”
Said Claire: “From my view, from the point of what we wanted to achieve here after surveying the market, I think we’ve achieved the maximum. It’s one step. We still hope to take others.”
This one encompassed hours, days and often strained relationships. In its final form, ignoring what A’s General Manager Sandy Alderson described as the permutations in a long road:
--The Dodgers got Griffin and Howell from the A’s, and Orosco from the Mets.
--The A’s got Welch and Young from the Dodgers.
--The Mets received Savage from the Dodgers and two other pitching prospects from the A’s, Wally Whitehurst and Kevin Tapani.
It was curious that the Mets helped the A’s get Welch, since it had been the Mets who were probably the most persistent of the many suitors pursuing Welch.
New York beat at Claire’s door with an offer of shortstop Rafael Santana, outfielder Mookie Wilson and Orosco, but the Dodgers resisted, believing that Griffin, acclaimed for his attitude as well as ability, represented the best of the three shortstops under final consideration.
The two others were Santana and the Toronto Blue Jays’ unproven Manny Lee, who was packaged with right fielder Jesse Barfield and relief pitcher Mark Eichorn in Toronto’s best offer for Welch and untouchable pitching prospect Ramon Martinez, a Dodger source said.
Welch, of course, would have enriched the already deep Met pitching staff.
Joe McIlvaine, the club’s executive vice president, was obviously thinking of what he already has when he swallowed his disappointment at losing Welch and said, “Anytime you get a chance to acquire three strong-armed young pitchers, you’re better off in the long run.”
McIlvaine had been critical here of what he called Dodger confusion and indecision. Asked about that Friday, he said:
“We spent a funny week with them. They didn’t seem to know where they were going at times, and neither did we. I thought we made a hell of an offer, but I also think they made a hell of a deal.”
It was an off-and-on deal that Alderson was credited with reviving late Thursday night. The A’s general manager reflected and said: “There were a lot of comments this week about how long it was taking for the Dodgers to make a decision, but they knew what they wanted and they knew that what they wanted wasn’t all in one place. It took a lot of phone calls and meetings to get the pieces together.
“They also had the one pitcher that was most attractive to the widest number of clubs and they wanted to be sure they made the right move with him. Is there anything wrong in that?”
The A’s, of course, believe that the Dodgers made the right move.
The 31-year-old Welch, 15-9 with a 3.28 earned-run average, had the best of his nine major league seasons in 1987. He will earn $900,000 in ’88 and is eligible for free agency when the season is over. The A’s obviously figure he is worth the risk.
Their goal was to leave here as the favorite in the American League West. They traded for Dave Parker, signed free agent Ron Hassey and now have a new staff ace in Welch.
“We’re still not perfect, but I don’t see a perfect team anywhere,” Manager Tony LaRussa said. “Sandy has done a hell of a job here. We’ve filled a lot of holes. On paper, we should win 90 to 100 games.”
Only four pitchers in Dodger history have won more games than Welch.
“You know that I have a stomach of iron, but it’s been in a knot since last night at the thought of Bob leaving,” Lasorda said. “He’s meant so much to us. He’s helped us to so many playoff and (World) Series victories. He’s our senior player since Billy (Russell) retired.
“You win 15 games with the type team we had last year and you know what he’s going to do with a good team. We can’t replace a pitcher of his caliber. You just insert someone in there to do the job. We have four or five guys to choose from.”
With Orosco and Howell available in the bullpen, Lasorda said he will consider returning Alejandro Pena to the rotation and that Shawn Hillegas, Tim Belcher and Tim Leary will also be given opportunities to join Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser as starters.
The Dodgers in recent years have received a number of painful reminders of the inherent risk in trades. This one is no different, and it goes beyond the fact that Howell is 32 and Griffin and Orosco are 30.
Howell has not pitched since having bone chips removed from his right elbow in August. Griffin suffered a jammed left thumb in September, was fitted for a cast Tuesday and will wear it for four or five weeks.
Claire dismissed those possible problems. He said that Dr. Frank Jobe had been asked to investigate the new Dodgers’ physical status and reported that neither’s injuryrepresented a long-term threat.
There certainly seems to be nothing wrong with Griffin’s heart, and Claire said that was a major factor in the trade. A .258 career hitter with 167 stolen bases, Griffin is known as a gamer.
“He plays hard and he plays hurt,” said Bill Rigney, an A’s adviser. “His character? Top of the line.”
Claire concurred, saying he had talked to several people about Griffin’s character and competitiveness, and that he looks for Griffin to be a positive influence on the organization’s many other Dominican infielders, including Duncan.
Said Lasorda: “I haven’t seen him that much but I hear he’s a hell of a player. I looked at his record over the last six years and he’s played all 162 games four times and more than 140 the other two. That’s something we haven’t had.”
Why then would the A’s trade the player who had been what Alderson called “the glue that held us together?” Welch represented a missing link, he said, and they are confident that a touted Walt Weiss is on the verge of shortstop stardom.
The Dodgers were without candidates at that key position and painfully mindful that they had led the majors in errors for two straight seasons, had lost 32 games by one run last season and were last in the league in saves.
The three newcomers figure to help turn it around.
The flame-throwing Howell had 29 saves in 1985, 16 in ’86 and 16 more last season, when he attempted to pitch in pain for several weeks before his surgery. The resulting inconsistency led to rude treatment by the fans, including a battery of boos when he was introduced at the All-Star game in Oakland, where he expected better.
Howell, disturbed by the environment, reportedly asked the A’s to trade him. Orosco, who is guaranteed a $1-million salary in ‘88, had also requested a trade, reportedly feeling that he had been used too irregularly to maintain his form.
He had 16 saves in 58 appearances after registering 86 over the previous four years. In eight appearances in the 1986 playoffs and World Series, he allowed 3 runs in 13 innings, striking out 16.
“I’ve always liked Orosco,” Lasorda said. “He’s a tremendous competitor and winner.”
He also should be at home in Dodger Stadium, since he reportedly dreamed of playing there as a youth growing up in Santa Barbara.
In the wake of Steve Howe, the Dodgers have now traded for a left-handed relief pitcher in each of the last four years. Carlos Diaz is gone. Ed Van de Berg is gone. And now Young, who missed the last five weeks of the season with a sprained elbow ligament, is gone.
Claire said he is confident Orosco will do better. How else would he feel after completing his first major trade as Al Campanis’ successor and shelving, for the time being or longer, the issue of indecisiveness.
“I never attempted to hold up the convention,” he said. “I stated our intentions and stayed after them. I wasn’t going to be forced into making a trade just to make one. I was prepared to walk out without having made one.”
Awake virtually all night tending to the details of the one he made, Claire might have been sleepwalking when he did finally leave.
The players involved in the three-way trade among the Dodgers, New York Mets and Oakland A’s Friday:
Obtained from Oakland A’s pitcher Jay Howell, shortstop Alfredo Griffin and pitcher Jesse Orosco (via New York Mets).
NEW YORK METS
Obtained from Oakland A’s pitchers Wally Whitehurst, Kevin Tapani and Jack Savage (via Dodgers).
Obtained from Dodgers pitchers Bob Welch and Matt Young.
Year Team G HR RBI SB AVG 1987 Oakland 144 3 60 26 .263 Career Totals 1370 22 396 167 .258
POS: PITCHER (RH)
Year Team G W-L SV SO ERA 1987 Oakland 36 3-4 16 35 5.89 Career Totals 238 29-30 71 167 4.16
POS: PITCHER (LH)
Year Team G W-L SV SO ERA 1987 N.Y. Mets 58 3-9 16 78 4.44 Career Totals 372 47-47 107 508 2.74
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