Jack McKeon held the telephone in one hand Friday morning, caressed a cigar with the other, and studied a roster sheet laying in front of him.
McKeon, the Padres’ manager and vice president/baseball operations, spoke with several clubs, talked about numerous players, but the man he covets most figures to still be wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform on opening day.
Cubs left fielder Dwight Smith, runner-up in the rookie of the year balloting last season, batting .324 with nine homers and 52 RBIs, will be staying put.
For now, at least.
“They want starting pitching,” McKeon said, “and we can’t help them. We’re not all that deep. Maybe something can work out in the future, but not right now.”
Although McKeon is a bit frustrated at his failed attempts to make a trade, he was promised that if the Cubs ever do structure a trade involving Smith, McKeon will be provided a final opportunity to eclipse the offer.
“We made that promise to Jack,” said Hugh Alexander, the Cubs’ special player consultant. “I told him, ‘Jack, if we trade Dwight Smith, you’ll get the last refusal.’ I told that to (Cubs General Manager) Jim Frey, and he said that’s fine.
“We’ve talked many times about Dwight Smith, and although we haven’t traded him yet, and maybe never will, I guarantee you we’ll give Jack McKeon a call.
“We owe him one, and I told him that one of these days we’ll make it up to you. Maybe this will be the one.”
The Cubs are indebted to McKeon, Alexander said, because of the five-player trade on Aug. 31, 1989, between the clubs. The Padres sent third baseman Luis Salazar and outfielder Marvell Wynne to the Cubs in exchange for pitcher Calvin Schiraldi, outfielder Darrin Jackson and infielder Phil Stephenson.
“If we don’t get those guys, we don’t win the division,” Alexander said, “it’s that simple. We know that. Jacks knows that. All of baseball knows that.
“Jack didn’t really have a need for them, but he knew that we did, and that’s how we were able to work something out.
“That’s the greatest thing about Jack, he’s not scared to trade. He doesn’t even worry about the ballplayers he trades away, all he cares about is what the players will do for his team.
“The biggest problem he’s got, just like me, is that there are clubs now afraid to trade with us. They’re leery of Jack. They think Jack knows more about their players than they do.
“And you know what, they’re probably right.”
This typically has been the time of year when McKeon is able to finalize his roster with a last-minute trade. He pulled off the trade in 1986 to acquire Wynne days before the start of the season. In 1988 he picked up Keith Moreland and Mike Brumley a few days before the start of spring training. Last season, he grabbed Salazar 10 days before the season-opener.
But this year, with some teams reluctant to deal with him because of his success, others who just can’t match personnel, and those who are stifled because of the new Basic Agreement regulations, McKeon has no other choice but to accept the fact that no major deals will be made.
“I just can’t see us making one right now,” he said. “Everybody’s looking for that big-name player, or that pitcher, but nobody wants the kids.
“So we’ll go with what we’ve got, and take it from there. I really like the club we have now, anyway, but you’re always looking to strengthen it.”
And certainly, the acquisition of Smith would do just that, enabling McKeon to put another everyday player in the lineup while eliminating the need for a revolving door in left field with Bip Roberts, Fred Lynn and possibly Jerald Clark.
“We’ll be fine,” McKeon said. “We’ll just have Lynn, Bip and Pags (third baseman Mike Pagliarulo) alternating in the lineup. And if someone gets hot, they’ll stay there. It’s that simple.”
Really, the Padres’ entire roster is becoming much more clear to McKeon. Even though he still has nine days to finalize his 24-man roster, the choices have become evident:
First, the opening-day lineup: Bip Roberts, third base; Roberto Alomar, second base; Tony Gwynn, right field; Jack Clark, first base; Joe Carter, center field; Benito Santiago, catcher; Garry Templeton, shortstop; Fred Lynn, left field; and Bruce Hurst, pitcher. The only possible change, barring injuries, would be that Pagliarulo would start at third base, and Roberts would move to left field.
Starting rotation, in the order of opening the season: Hurst, Eric Show, Andy Benes, Dennis Rasmussen and Ed Whitson.
Bullpen: Craig Lefferts, Greg Harris, Mark Grant, Calvin Schiraldi and Pat Clements.
Infielders: Clark and Phil Stephenson, first base; Roberto Alomar, second base; Templeton and Joey Cora, shortstop; Roberts and Pagliarulo, third base.
Outfielders: Gwynn, right field; Carter, and Darrin Jackson, center field; Lynn and Jerald Clark, left field.
Catchers: Santiago and Mark Parent.
It’s possible that McKeon could carry 11 pitchers for the first two or three weeks of the season, he said, which probably would provide Eric Nolte a job. He would simply add Nolte to the roster if they are allowed to carry 25 players for the month of April, but if clubs are required to stay at 24 players, Clark probably would be optioned to triple-A Las Vegas until the pitching staff is in order.
The most difficult aspect of optioning players to the minor leagues now, McKeon said, is the new Basic Agreement. When a player is out of options and a club wants to return him to the minor leagues, it must ask waivers on him. In the past, if another club put in a claim for that player, the original club would withdraw the waivers. No longer. Once a club puts in a claim with the $20,000 waiver price, the player is gone.
In addition, a player such as Padre first baseman Rob Nelson, who is out of options and already has been outrighted to the minors once in his career, can declare himself a free agent when he is outrighted again.
“It really complicates things,” McKeon said, “but what are you going to do? If the time ever comes when we have to make a trade, we’ll do it. It never stopped us before, and it’s not going to stop us now.”
After all, they don’t call him Trader Jack for his car commercials, now do they?
The Padres apparently have resolved their biggest question of the spring by deciding that Jack Clark will bat cleanup, and Joe Carter will bat fifth. They’ve played in the same lineup twice, and Clark has batted ahead of Carter in each game. “Jack takes so many walks and Joe swings at a lot of pitches,” Padre batting coach Amos Otis said, “that we just thought it’d be best this way. We’ll try it from the start and see what happens.” Clark said: “I’m really looking forward to having Joe behind me. I’m going to be seeing some pitches I haven’t seen in awhile.” . . . Padre pitcher Greg Harris was a little surprised Friday morning to pick up USA Today and see that he was making $715,000. Funny, last time he checked he was making $175,000. “I’ll be answering questions about this for a while,” Harris said, laughing. . . . Padre second baseman Roberto Alomar had his left hand so heavily taped before the game Friday that teammate Tony Gwynn suggested he should change is name. “Man, you look more like Roberto Duran, than Roberto Alomar,” he said. . . . Gwynn switched to a smaller outfielder’s glove because of the new regulations that require gloves to be no larger than 12 inches, but still has yet to find out how he’ll adjust. “I’ve only had one ball hit to me in four games,” he said, “so I have no better idea now than I had before. I’ve hardly had the chance to even use my glove.” . . . The Padres optioned four players to the minor leagues: pitchers Matt Maysey and Jeremy Hernandez, and catchers Bob Lutticken and Mark Verstandig. Additional cuts will be made today and Sunday, with infielders Paul Faries and Eddie Williams, catcher Greg Conley, and pitchers Ricky Bones and Rafael Valdez expected to be included in the next group of casualties. . . . The Padres became the first Cactus League team Friday to beat the Mariners, 4-3, when they got out of a one-out, bases-loaded situation in the ninth. Mariner catcher Scott Bradley hit a sharp ground ball that bounced off the chest of shortstop Joey Cora, but it bounced right to Alomar, who stepped on second and threw to first for the double-play. . . . Bruce Hurst became the first Padre pitcher to complete five innings Friday, allowing seven hits, three runs (one earned), one walk and four strikeouts. “It was a nice day’s work,” Hurst said, “but really, I could have gone another inning. I should be ready to go by opening day. I feel great.” . . . Padre outfielder Darrin Jackson hit a two-run homer in the game. Catcher Mark Parent drove in Phil Stephenson with the game-winning run. . . . The Padres lost 10-0 to Seattle in a five-inning “B” game. . . . The Padres’ April 17 game in Cincinnati has been changed to 11:05 a.m. (PDT). It will be fourth home-opener the Padres will play, with the first games in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco also being home-openers. . . . The Padres drew 1,478 fans Friday, bringing their five-game total to just 7,482. . . . Pitcher Mike Dunne, who underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery in November, likely will open the season on the disabled list. . . . Jerry Kapstein, Padre chief executive, has informed the players that his promised wives’ lounge will be ready in time for the Padres’ April 7 spring-training game against the Seattle Mariners. It will be complete with a laundry, kitchen, 24-inch color TV, a VCR, two telephones, and an intercom system hooked up to the clubhouse.