Baseball : Owners Were Shipping Arms at Meetings

Baseball general managers like to say that you can't trade for pitching, that it's the one commodity no one will give up.

The winter meetings in Dallas showed that to be an excuse, an alibi.

Pitching is available to any club willing to pay the price.

There were 10 trades involving 24 major league players, 17 of whom were pitchers.

The only non-pitchers traded were either shortstops--Alfredo Griffin, Rafael Ramirez and Rafael Santana--or outfielders: Dave Parker, Gary Pettis, Glenn Wilson and Phil Bradley.

Among the pitchers traded were the winner (Lee Smith) and loser (Jay Howell) of the 1987 All-Star game and the relief aces of the 1986 pennant winners: the New York Mets' Jesse Orosco and the Boston Red Sox's Calvin Schiraldi.

Any future expansion team would probably be delighted with this staff of traded pitchers:

Starters--Bob Welch, Floyd Bannister, Dan Petry, Mike Morgan and Jose Rijo or Matt Young (the Oakland Athletics intend to give Young a shot at their rotation).

Relievers--Smith, Orosco, Howell, Schiraldi and Mike Jackson or Doug Sisk or John Davis.

Even before the meetings, the three major winter trades involved pitchers:

--The Kansas City Royals traded Danny Jackson to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Kurt Stilwell.

--The Chicago White Sox traded Richard Dotson to the New York Yankees for Dan Pasqua and Mark Salas.

--The Yankees traded Brad Arnsberg to the Texas Rangers for catcher Don Slaught.

If Welch seemed to be the hottest item in Dallas, Ramon Martinez couldn't have been far behind.

Who? Ramon Martinez is a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic who had a 16-5 record for the Dodgers' Class-A farm club at Vero Beach. He was second in the Florida State League in wins, earned-run average (2.17) and strikeouts (148 in 170 innings).

Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, informed the media early in the meetings that Martinez and Juan Bell, a 19-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic who played at Bakersfield last season, would not be traded, a stance that apparently thwarted potential deals with the Mets and Toronto Blue Jays, both seeking a Welch and Martinez package.

Claire, of course, was cognizant of farm director Charley Blaney's report on Martinez: "The best pitching prospect in our system and maybe the best in the minor leagues."

What's Martinez's future?

"If he continues to improve, I can see him pitching in Dodger Stadium in 1989," Vero Beach Manager John Shoemaker said Saturday. "Barring injury, he'll be in the big leagues within two or three years."

Shoemaker described Martinez as a string bean at 6 feet 4 inches and about 170 pounds, but said:

"He doesn't need to bulk up or put on weights. He's got a loose arm of the type that doesn't come around that often. He's hit 93 (miles per hour) on the speed gun, but his fastball is consistently 88-89, and he can maintain it for five or six innings, which you don't see at this level that often.

"He got Florida State (League) hitters out with that fastball and a changeup. He's going to have to improve his curveball to move up higher, but I don't see that as a problem. You only have to tell him something once and he retains it."

If the Dodgers receive what one club official described as "certain protections" from the Detroit Tigers or the owners' Player Relations Committee, it is still likely they will trade Pedro Guerrero to the Tigers for Kirk Gibson.

"There were too many legalities and too little time to get it done during the meetings," a person familiar with the Detroit organization said Saturday.

Gibson was a central figure in the owners' free-agent conspiracy of 1985-86. A decision in the penalty hearing, which is in progress, is not expected until February. Gibson and the other free agents of that year could be declared free agents again or receive financial compensation.

It can be speculated that the Dodgers would be willing to extend Gibson's contract, which ends after the '88 season, if he waived his penalty rights.

Otherwise, it can be speculated that the Dodgers would want the Tigers to agree to return Guerrero if Gibson was declared a free agent or to pay whatever compensation is ordered, although that compensation would probably be shared by the 26 teams.

How would Gibson's acquisition alter the plans to play Guerrero at first base, Mariano Duncan at second, Griffin at shortstop and Steve Sax at third?

The Dodgers would seem to have three alternatives:

(1) Employ Franklin Stubbs at first, with Gibson in left, John Shelby in center and Mike Marshall in right.

(2) Employ a platoon of Stubbs and Steve Garvey at first, with that same outfield alignment.

(3) Employ Marshall at first, with Gibson in left, Shelby in center and Mike Devereaux in right.

The message on Matt Young's answering machine now concludes: "Go, A's."

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