To illustrate how desperately the Chicago Cubs need bullpen help, 93% of those who responded to a recent Chicago newspaper survey said that the team should release Rich (Goose) Gossage, who was supposed to have been their stopper but went belly up after being being traded to the Cubs last season.
So, for the second straight winter, the Cubs engineered a trade for a hoped-for savior, acquiring left-hander Mitch Williams from the Texas Rangers as part of a nine-player deal Monday.
To get him, the Cubs had to surrender Rafael Palmeiro, the No. 2 hitter in the National League last season with a .307 average; left-handed starter Jamie Moyer, and minor league reliever Drew Hall, another left-hander.
The Rangers parted with six players. In addition to Williams, who had 18 saves in 67 appearances last season, Texas gave up left-handed starter Paul Kilgus; utility infielder Curtis Wilkerson; minor league left-hander Steve Wilson, and two other minor leaguers who will be announced after today's minor league draft.
None of the players in the trade is older than 27.
"Now we're willing to go to war with what we've got," said Cub vice president Jim Frey, who has assembled a team that nicely mixes veterans such as Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg with talented young players such as Shawon Dunston, Mark Grace, Greg Maddux and Damon Berryhill but didn't figure to rise higher than last season's fourth-place finish without a premier reliever.
The bullpen last season had just 29 saves, which ranked 11th in the league and matched the number compiled by Lee Smith, the former Cub stopper, for the Boston Red Sox.
Williams, 24, should improve those numbers drastically, but he also is guaranteed to provide more than a few anxious moments for Cub Manager Don Zimmer. Williams has more strikeouts than innings pitched in his career (280 strikeouts in 274 2/3 innings), but he is notorious for bouts of wildness. He walked 47 batters and hit 6 others in just 68 innings last season, one reason his won-lost record (2-7) and earned-run average (4.63) weren't so hot, even though American League batters hit just .203 against him.
The key to the deal for Texas, of course, was Palmeiro, who had a 20-game hitting streak last season and also hit 41 doubles, the second-highest total in the league. Palmeiro, who struck out just 34 times in 580 at-bats, will play either the outfield or first base for the Rangers, Texas Vice President Tom Grieve said.
"We feel like we got our cake and can eat it, too," Grieve said.
But the Rangers, who were last in the AL in home runs and next-to-last in runs scored, can't expect Palmeiro to answer their need for increased production. He had just 8 home runs and 53 runs batted in (batting leadoff), but did not have a single game-winning RBI. That is a misleading statistic, to be sure, but it would figure that Palmeiro would have had at least one, by accident.
Each team apparently preferred the other's starting left-hander. Moyer, 26, was 9-15 with a 3.48 ERA, his record affected by the Cubs' penchant for failing to score runs when he was on the mound. In 23 of his 30 starts, Moyer allowed 3 runs or fewer.
Kilgus, 26, was 12-15 with a 4.15 ERA in his first full big-league season. He had 3 shutouts, including a one-hitter against Minnesota.
The Rangers also were involved in the day's other trade, acquiring shortstop Bobby Meacham from the New York Yankees for reserve outfielder Bob Brower. Meacham, who played 155 games at shortstop in 1985, was limited to 47 games last season because of a pinched nerve in his neck.