Just Another No-Risk Angel Trade

Luis Polonia is the Angels’ new leadoff hitter, at least for the moment, because:

a) They didn’t have an old one.

b) Tim Raines, Vince Coleman or Lenny Dysktra would have cost something.

c) The Angels already lead the major leagues in designated hitters, but needed some insurance.


It’s hard to knock a trade that gets you something for nothing--and dumps a $1 million contract to boot--but someone ought to remind Mike Port that baseball is a one-platoon sport. Already, Port has one designated hitter (Brian Downing) on the bench, another (Chili Davis) in left field and a third (Johnny Ray) at second base.

And now he has Polonia, a left fielder by name only, a man whose madcap outfield exploits once inspired this Jeopardy-type query from an Oakland teammate:

A. Catch 22.

Q. What do you get when you hit 100 fly balls to Luis Polonia?

Dodger fans, no doubt, recall Polonia. He was Oakland’s one-man field hockey team in the 1988 World Series, slip-sliding from here to eternity, seeking shelter from baseballs the size of hailstones.

Scouts say Polonia plays the outfield with reckless abandon. This is not meant as a compliment, but the Angels regard it as an improvement over Claudell Washington, who was reckless in his abandonment of playing the outfield.

With the Angels, Washington was Old Unfaithful--here today, gone tomorrow and who knows where the day after that? Last season, Washington missed three weeks because of a condition known as cellulitis of the shin, which didn’t mean he had a fat shin, only a sore one. And last September, he bailed out on the Angels during the 4-11 East Coast trip that shattered their season, citing mysterious “personal reasons.”

A mystery no more, those reasons go back home to the marital dispute that appears to be consuming Washington. In December and again in April, Washington was charged with spousal battery. He was to be questioned by Anaheim police about the second incident when the Angels returned home Friday.

Now, the Angels return home without him. Washington and triple-A pitcher Rich Monteleone were sent to the New York Yankees Sunday in exchange for Polonia, which is as cut-rate as leadoff hitters come.

Washington is 35, in the second year of a $2.65-million contract and currently batting .176. Monteleone, 27, is best known as the man who got Cookie Rojas fired. Monteleone was the pitcher Rojas inadvertently visited twice on the mound in one inning, resulting in Monteleone’s embarrassing removal from the game and Rojas’ dismissal as Angel manager the following day.

So, for the price of an overpaid fourth outfielder and a reliever stuck on the Edmonton-Anaheim shuttle, the Angels got Polonia. It is the textbook Mike Port trade: Little ventured, maybe something gained. For better or worse, Port has built this Angel club on such small-risk deals--two minor leaguers for Ray, a minor league pitcher for Lance Parrish, three minor leaguers for Bert Blyleven.

With each, so far, Port has finished ahead.

But you get what you pay for, and to get the kind of offensive producer the Angels need to make a difference--a Raines or an Ellis Burks--Port would have had to part with a starting pitcher and/or Devon White. Port doesn’t trade starting pitchers or starting center fielders. Unlike the team he has put on the field, Port plays for the single, not the long ball.

This may seem a lousy way to go about catching the A’s, who can pull the trigger and bring in Rickey Henderson, but at the moment, Port is thin on options.

He has a marketable shortstop, Dick Schofield, who can’t get off the disabled list. Injuries to Greg Minton and Bob McClure have depleted the once-deep pitching staff. And with the Angels batting a league-low .228, Port figures he needs all the pitching he can get.

Polonia can’t help but help the offense. Unlike White, he’s a leadoff man who isn’t insulted by the job description. Unlike Mark McLemore, he’s a leadoff man who can hit. Polonia, 25, has batted .287, .293 and .300 in his first three big league seasons and was hitting .318 this year with the Yankees.

He also steals bases--24 in 1988, 22 in 1989--and grasps the concept of putting the ball in play. Polonia struck out 44 times in 433 at-bats last summer and just 148 times in three seasons. White nearly matched that figure last year alone, his 129 strikeouts leading a team that led the American League in that category.

But where will Polonia play? This could be fun. The initial plan is to try Polonia in left field and move Davis to DH, which may say more about Davis’ fielding ability than his 19 errors in 1988.

But that could change any minute.

Either way, center fielder White is advised to keep loose.

And, either way, Downing appears to be the odd DH out. Downing used to play left field better than either Polonia or Davis, but now he’s 39 and hasn’t played in the field since 1987. He hasn’t done much designated hitting lately, either--just .186 in 43 at-bats--and with a chronically aching rib cage, he’s being groomed for a final season of designated sitting.

Doug Rader said he needed to shake things up. Already, Polonia has succeeded.

A steadier outfield hand would have been preferred, and perhaps a better brand name, but when you do your business in the bargain bins, you take what you can get.