Trying to rectify perhaps the greatest blunder since their inception, the Kansas City Royals brought free-agent starting pitcher David Cone back home Tuesday.
Cone received a three-year contract for $18 million, paying him a record $9-million salary bonus.
Cone returns to the team that traded him away nearly six years ago in one of the most lopsided deals in history. Although there were five players involved in the infamous deal with the New York Mets, Cone was primarily traded for catcher Ed Hearn.
Cone wound up going 80-48 during the next six seasons with the Mets, winning at least 14 games in every season until he was traded Aug. 31 to the Toronto Blue Jays. Hearn played in only 13 games for the Royals and was out of baseball within three years.
“I still remember that day, March 28, 1987, when Cone was traded,” said Royal Manager Hal McRae, Cone’s teammate at the time. “My initial reaction was not good. It got a whole lot worse after that.
“Hopefully, we can forget about what happened ever since. It’s time to put up or shut up. It’s a huge step to get back to where we were--pitching and defense.”
Cone, who has been in two playoffs and the 1992 World Series, returns to his hometown team that has finished in sixth place two consecutive years.
“I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d be going home to Kansas City,” Cone said. “I never even thought it even had a feasible chance. It was my first choice all along.”
Cone, 29, became the latest player to reject the New York Yankees’ attempts to lure free agents, joining Barry Bonds and pitchers Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell.
“The Yankee negotiations were strange,” Cone said. “Needless to say. The chaos surrounding the front office there is pretty self-explanatory, and everyone knows George Steinbrenner is coming back.”
The Royals, owned by billionaire Ewing Kauffman, signed free-agent shortstop Greg Gagne to a three-year, $10.7-million contract earlier in the day, joining newly acquired Gold Glove second baseman Jose Lind.
Spurned by Cone, the Blue Jays moved quickly, signing Dave Stewart to a two-year, $8.5-million contract and rescinding an offer to left-hander Jimmy Key. The Blue Jays have made a potential commitment of $46.5 million to Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and Stewart, who received only a one-year offer from the Oakland Athletics, with whom he won 20 or more games four times and was 12-10 last year.
Stewart, 31, will join Jack Morris, Juan Guzman and Todd Stottlemyre in the Toronto rotation. He said the Blue Jays showed him a respect with their pursuit and offer that the A’s didn’t. He added, however, that he was leaving great people and a team that gave him a chance when his career seemed over and that made it a “happy-sad” night.
“I always envisioned ending my career with the A’s, but what’s important to me and what’s important to the A’s at this point are two different things,” he said. “The Blue Jays are doing things the way they should be done. If these two years are my last two years I want to have a chance to win.”
The first priority for the new owners of the Seattle Mariners was to sign three-time all-star Ken Griffey Jr. to a long-term contract, which they did late Tuesday night with a four-year, $24-million deal.
In Griffey’s four-year career, he has a lifetime batting average of .301 with 87 home runs and 344 runs batted in. Griffey is 23.
The Dodgers spent the day pursuing reliever Todd Worrell and had serious talks about acquiring free agent Wade Boggs.
Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president, met with Worrell’s agent Richie Bry several times Tuesday and made a couple of “fair proposals,” Bry said. The right-hander is also considering an offer from the Atlanta Braves, and Bry said Worrell will make a decision by noon today. The Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox are also interested in Worrell.
Boggs, who was not offered arbitration from the Red Sox, made a proposal to the Dodgers for a four-year contract, but the Dodgers are willing to offer only two years.
“That’s the rub,” said Alan Nero, Boggs’ agent. “Wade is very excited about the possibility of going to the Dodgers and the Dodgers are very serious about him, but in terms of completing the deal I would say we are not halfway there yet.”
The Dodgers’ attempt to trade Dave Hansen for Kelly Gruber was foiled when the Angels obtained Gruber for Luis Sojo and an undisclosed amount of cash.
Even though Worrell is from Arcadia, Bry said Worrell’s priority is to pitch for a contender. The original offers from the Braves and Dodgers were for three years and about $8 million.
Boston’s interest in Worrell was sparked late in the day when free agent Randy Myers suddenly pulled out of a deal that Boston General Manager Lou Gorman said was virtually finalized. Gorman said that a new team had materialized at the last minute.
Both the Dodgers and the Cubs have shown an interest in Myers, who had 38 saves for the San Diego Padres last season. Claire, keeping his options open, met with Myers’ agent Tuesday. Myers could give the Dodgers its first premier left-handed closer since Steve Howe, who signed a contract Tuesday worth $4.2 million with the New York Yankees.
The Cleveland Indians signed Dodger free agent Bob Ojeda to a one-year contract with a club option. Ojeda, a left-hander, made 29 starts for the Dodgers last season and had a 6-9 record with a 3.63 earned-run average. The Dodgers, who have no left-handed starting pitchers remaining, said they let Ojeda go because they wanted to start Pedro Astacio.
“Do you start Ojeda over Astacio?” Claire said. “Our decision was based on the ability of our pitchers and future growth.”
The Florida Marlins signed free-agent knuckleballer Charlie Hough and third baseman Dave Magadan to triple-A contracts with plans to add them to their major league roster when there is room. The Marlins also plan to sign first baseman Orestos Destrada today.
Hough, 44, will return to the National League for the first time since 1980, when he pitched for the Dodgers. His salary will be $800,000 with an opportunity for $200,000 more in incentives.
When Hough was told that the Marlins open at home against the Dodgers, he had this message for his former manager, Tom Lasorda: “Tell Tommy he’s 0-1.”
The Montreal Expos traded left fielder Ivan Calderon to the Boston Red Sox for right-hander Mike Gardiner and minor league pitcher Terry Powers. Calderon is a proven power hitter who was injured a good part of last season. By trading Calderon, the Expos open up a full-time spot in left field for Moises Alou, the son of Expo Manager Felipe Alou, and also rid the club of a $2.9-million salary that can help it sign catcher Benito Santiago, whom the team is pursuing. . . . The Philadelphia Phillies signed Pete Incaviglia, the Texas Rangers signed left-hander Bob Patterson, the Chicago White Sox signed Dave Stieb, the Oakland Athletics signed right-hander Storm Davis and the Chicago Cubs signed reliever Dan Plesac. . . . The Cincinnati Reds are showing an interest in Mike Scioscia.
Times staff writers Ross Newhan, Helene Elliott and Bob Nightengale contributed to this story.