Baseball / Ross Newhan : Landing Henderson, A's Got Better; So Did Giants, Mets

There was heavy trading on the New York and Pacific stock exchanges this week.

In action generally associated with Labor Day and the September stretch drive, the Bay Area and New York teams plunged early in an attempt--for the most part--to enhance their chances for title dividends.

Here are a synopsis and analysis:

RICKEY GOES HOME

Already boasting baseball's best record, despite a barrage of injuries, the Oakland Athletes couldn't restrain their enthusiasm at re-acquiring leadoff man and left fielder Rickey Henderson from the Yankees.

"It's a run whenever he gets on base," pitcher Dave Stewart said. "It's automatic offense. You'll see the difference immediately."

Said Dave Parker, the designated hitter: "In New York, Rickey was the whole show. He felt he had to do it all. Here, he just has to do his job. Now he'll put on the show."

Nobody can do it better than Henderson, when he has his mind on it.

But the Yankees--at least at the management level--had begun to question the frequency with which he had his mind on it.

"I'm not saying Rickey didn't bust his tail every day, but I just didn't see the juice and enthusiasm people said Rickey had when he's on a hot streak," Manager Dallas Green said.

If ever there was a season for Henderson to display that juice, this was it.

He is coming off a five-year, $8.6-million contract, is eligible for free agency when the season ends, reportedly wants $8.2 million over three years and had given the Yankees until the All-Star break to reach an agreement, at which point, he said, negotiations would end and he would plan on playing elsewhere next season.

Henderson and the Yankees were said to be $1.2 million apart, a difference the club was unwilling to resolve, considering that Henderson will be 31 on Christmas Day and there are questions about the consistency of his physical skills--in addition to those concerning his drive. A trade also represented an opportunity for the Yankees to improve their bullpen depth.

They acquired relief pitchers Eric Plunk and Greg Cadaret and left fielder Luis Polonia, who replaces Henderson--at least on the lineup card. Polonia is a spray hitter with speed, but he lacks Henderson's defensive ability and his on-base percentage doesn't compare because of an unwillingness to accept walks.

Former Yankee manager Lou Piniella reflected on the acquisitions and said: "It's almost like the Yankees borrowed Rickey for four years and then sent him back for the same ingredients."

In acquiring Henderson from the A's 4 1/2 years ago, they traded spray hitting outfielder Stan Javier and pitchers Jose Rijo, Tim Birtsas and Jay Howell.

Before and since, the Yankees have traded so much pitching talent that Plunk and Cadaret--primarily middle men who at times played key rolls for the A's but weren't considered irreplaceable--probably glittered like gold.

Most Yankees, however, endorsed the view of relief pitcher Dave Righetti, who reflected on the loss of Henderson and said:

"I wasn't thrilled. It's the last thing I expected to see. I'm trying to figure out what direction we're going in. We've had trouble scoring runs and we're going to miss him.

"When he got here in '83 we became a damn good team right away. He had that try-to-get-me-out arrogance. Our whole lineup was like that last year. I hope he doesn't come back and beat us but you know he will someday."

Henderson, who averaged .293 in his previous four years with the Yankees, was hitting .247 when traded. His success rate on steal attempts was down from 86% to 75.8%, and his pace projected to only 55 steals, 90 runs and 48 runs batted in.

The A's, however, are confident that Henderson will be invigorated by the return to his hometown and the chance to ignite one of baseball's most formidable lineups once Jose Canseco returns near the All-Star break.

They are confident, too, that their prized chemistry won't be disrupted by an often individualistic player. When the trade was being rumored, Oakland players huddled privately, then let management know they approved the acquisition.

"If he tries anything that's not in the spirit of what we're trying to accomplish here, he's going to hear about it," Manager Tony LaRussa said. "He's going to hear about it from the manager, the coaches and a bunch of players."

There are two bottom lines for the A's. They are optimistic they can sign Henderson. And, as Canseco said, "To me, he's got to be the best leadoff hitter ever. How often do you get a chance to trade for that kind of player?"

RELIEF FOR THE GIANTS

In their championship summer of 1987, sensing a chance to put the National League's Western Division away, the San Francisco Giants traded for pitchers Rick Reuschel, Dave Dravecky, Craig Lefferts and Don Robinson.

It was in the same sense that club President Al Rosen moved to acquire relief ace Steve Bedrosian from the Philadelphia Phillies.

"I haven't felt an adrenaline rush like this since the '87 playoffs," second baseman Rob Thompson said after the Giants acquired a pitcher who had saved 97 games over the previous three years but had become a luxury for the Phillies since they could seldom get to him with a lead because of their pathetic starting pitching.

In the Phillies' first 61 games, Bedrosian had eight save opportunities. He had two in his first three games with the Giants and converted both.

The San Francisco bullpen had walked in the winning run six times and wild-pitched it in once before his arrival.

Now the Giants have the best of both worlds: A proven right-hander in his prime--Bedrosian is 31--and a dependable left-hander, Lefferts, who is 13 for 13 in saves.

The Giants had to part with a pair of promising young left-handers, Dennis Cook and Terry Mulholland, but their farm system is considered to be loaded with lefties.

As Manager Roger Craig said Thursday after his team had come off a 10-2 home stand that included the two saves by Bedrosian:

"If I was on the other side, I'd be saying, 'That club is hot. It's on a roll, and now its got Steve Bedrosian. It's going to be tough to catch.' "

NO MORE MOOK-STRA

The Mets have put an end to a center field platoon that displeased both Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra, since Dykstra now is happily playing full-time for the Phillies. Wilson remains with the Mets, but his situation has deteriorated.

In dealing Dykstra, the Mets acquired Juan Samuel, who will lead off and play center regularly.

Wilson's batting average has hovered near .200 all season. Dykstra is as gritty as ever, but in the last three seasons his batting average had slipped from .295 to .285 to .270, and his on-base percentage had gone from .377 to .352 to .321.

Samuel, 28, has struck out 140 or more times in each of his five big league seasons, but he has also averaged 18 homers, 34 doubles, 14 triples and 47 stolen bases.

The Mets have been searching for an impact player, and Samuel has that potential. He also gives 100% on every play, an important consideration for the Mets, who were dismayed when Dykstra failed recently to run out a shallow fly ball that fell untouched.

Of Samuel, Manager Dave Johnson said: "I told him I felt he could provide a little professionalism. I felt we had been lacking in certain areas. He's a guy that plays by the old rules, who doesn't take it for granted that they're going to catch the ball. He airs it out every time and he's been doing that for a second-division team."

The Mets also gave up relief pitcher Roger McDowell, who was no longer being used in key situations, displaced as the set-up man for Randy Myers by Rick Aguilera.

Wilson is now the only semi-regular remaining from the Mets' 1986 World Series champions.

Said club President Frank Cashen: "I always thought we would win this year and then the next year would be our transition year. But after we suffered the debilitating injuries to Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez, we had to accelerate our thinking."

PHILADELPHIA STORY

Lee Thomas, hired a year ago as the Phillies' general manager, has been saying it will take three years to rebuild the team.

He has acquired 17 players in the first year--14 by trade and three as free agents--but it is difficult to determine how much is cosmetic and how much is substantive.

Samuel and Bedrosian were two of the Phillies' toughest and most dependable players, yet the club was going nowhere with them. The question is, did Thomas give them up too cheaply, too prematurely?

The stock answer in a week of stock exchanges: Time will tell.

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