If Devon White ever fulfills the infinite promise the Angels saw in him, it will be in another uniform.
Finally conceding they can’t wring out of him more than flashes of the brilliance he showed as a rookie in 1987, the Angels on Sunday traded White to Toronto in the first transaction of the annual winter meetings. In an effort to improve their offensive and defensive performance at second base, the Angels gave up White, reliever Willie Fraser and a minor leaguer to be named in exchange for switch-hitting outfielder Junior Felix, infielder Luis Sojo and another minor leaguer to be named.
White, who will be 28 later this month, made an impressive debut in 1987, when he hit .263 with 24 home runs, 87 RBIs and 32 stolen bases. His batting average slipped to .217 this season, and he exceeded 100 strikeouts for the third time in four seasons despite a demotion to triple-A Edmonton.
“After the whole year I went through, with all the ups and downs and going to the minors, I felt maybe this was best for the Angels and for Devon White,” he said by phone from his home in Mesa, Ariz. “It’s a fresh start. . . . It would have been embarrassing to me, after what I hit, to have come back.”
Toronto General Manager Pat Gillick hopes the artificial surface on the Blue Jays’ Skydome field will help White’s offense.
“Basically, we’re looking to Devon White for defense. We’re not concerned about his offense,” Gillick said. “I think we have enough offense to carry Devon White, no matter what he hits. Our one big problem last year was defense, and Devon White will help that.
“You don’t see guys with that kind of talent very much. You’ve got to take a gamble once in a while.”
Fraser, who had a career-best 3.08 earned-run average in 45 relief appearances last season, could not be reached Sunday. Toronto Manager Cito Gaston said Fraser will be given a chance to become the Blue Jays’ fifth starter.
Felix, 23, hit .263 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs in 127 games last season. He played mostly right field, although the Angels plan to use him in center field. Sojo, 24, hit .225 in 33 games in Toronto after being promoted in July from triple-A Syracuse, for which he batted .296. His addition spells a probable end to Johnny Ray’s tenure at second, a stretch distinguished by Ray’s hitting but marred by his minimal fielding skills.
“Based on everything we’ve been given, Sojo will set up as an almost ideal No. 2 hitter,” Angel Manager Doug Rader said. “Felix probably has the God-given ability to hit third. His speed and power are the classical qualities for him to hit third.”
Felix’s talent hasn’t been doubted, but his attitude has. He was widely considered a temperamental player who was difficult to coach. Said a general manager who requested anonymity, “Our people feel they’re (Felix and Soho) very talented young players, but at this point in their careers, they’re very, very undisciplined players.”
The Angels and Blue Jays discussed various combinations of players for nearly two months before reaching an agreement late Sunday. According to General Manager Mike Port, trading White meant the Angels “may be giving up yards of defense for miles of offense,” but it’s an equation he accepted to get the improvement he considered vital at second base.
“Ultimately, Sojo was the guy from our standpoint that we wanted,” Port said. “This was equitable and gave us the infielder we were really after. . . .
“It’s well acknowledged that Toronto is getting a man of superb physical ability (in White). Maybe we just didn’t find the right key.”
The acquisition of Sojo could be the key to several other moves by the Angels. “This is the one we wanted to get done because it frees us to do other things,” Angel President Richard Brown said.
He added that the club is likely to complete another deal he described as “smaller in stature,” during the meetings. Among the moves being contemplated is the signing of Dave Henderson, who is expected to be granted new-look free agency. Should the Angels sign Henderson, they could play Felix in right field. If they don’t sign Henderson, the Angels’ outfield could consist of Luis Polonia in left, Felix in center and Dave Winfield in right.
After filling the Angels’ hole at second, Port planned to turn his attention toward finding a third baseman and acquiring backups at various positions. Happy as he was to make the trade, he harbored a deep regret that the Angels never fully mined White’s talents.
“If he ever gets it together with any degree of consistency, you’re talking about superstar capabilities,” Port said. "(The trade) came down to equity in terms of positions and quality of player. . . . We know we’re giving up something defensively in center field but we’re picking up something offensively. Maybe Toronto will be able to get out of him the endless potential Devon possesses.”