Where Did Everybody Go? : With Teams Adjusting to Changing Financial Times, Scorecard Sales Could Be Higher Than Ever

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who's on first?

Forget it. The question in 1993 is this: Which team is Who with now?

A dizzying winter of player movement might require a summer of competition to sort out, particularly in the National League West.

Let's see: Greg Maddux went to the Atlanta Braves; Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants; Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell to the Houston Astros; Roberto Kelly, John Smiley and Kevin Mitchell to the Cincinnati Reds and Tim Wallach, Jody Reed, Cory Snyder and Todd Worrell to the Dodgers.

"I don't think it was a matter of keeping up with the Joneses as much as catching up with the Joneses," Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz said. "We're all competitors in this business. If a team has been on top as we've been the last two years--and I've been on the other side, so I'm not being pompous or arrogant--you're motivated to find ways to close the gap."

Only time will determine how successfully Atlanta's rivals did that, but this much is certain: The traffic on the two-way street that is baseball loyalty didn't start and stop in the NL West.

Wade Boggs left his Boston Red Sox roots to play for the New York Yankees. Paul Molitor left the comfort of 15 years with the Milwaukee Brewers to play for American League East rival Toronto. The Blue Jays won a World Series and parted with Dave Winfield, Tom Henke, Jimmy

Key, David Cone, Candy Maldonado, Manny Lee, Kelly Gruber and others before signing Molitor and Dave Stewart, who had been a stalwart in the Oakland Athletics' rotation and East Bay community.

Winfield took his World Series ring to the Minnesota Twins. Cone signed on with the Kansas City Royals, joining new acquisitions Jose Lind, Greg Gagne and Felix Jose. Key went to the Yankees, Henke and Lee to the Texas Rangers. Maldonado joined the Cubs in Chicago, where he will try to replace Andre Dawson, now with the Red Sox along with Ivan Calderon, acquired from the Montreal Expos.

The Angels traded their most popular and, perhaps, best pitcher, Jim Abbott, to the Yankees; and Milwaukee's No. 1 pitcher, Chris Bosio, went to the Seattle Mariners, joining Norm Charlton, traded by the Reds for Mitchell. Danny Jackson moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with Pete Incaviglia, Milt Thompson and Jim Eisenreich, and the New York Mets acquired Tony Fernandez and Frank Tanana.

Stimulated by free agency, expansion and the response of management to soaring payrolls, more than 250 players followed a variety of avenues to new teams--some at the minor league level--after the 1992 season.

Of the 153 players who filed for free agency, 91 signed with other teams, 24 agreed to triple-A contracts and three went to Japan.

Schuerholz said the movement is simply a spinoff of the system and the difficulty all clubs face with roster management amid the current economics.

"I've sat in meetings the last three days talking about our roster and how we want to open the season, but instead of ability, a lot of it has to do with salary," Schuerholz said.

Fred Claire, executive vice president of the Dodgers, said: "All of us have to do a better job of educating the fans regarding the system, so that they understand why some moves have to be made. With the structure as it is, it's impossible to avoid difficult decisions based on financial implications.

"There's no better evidence of the system's impact than what Toronto has done. When was the last time a World Series champion underwent that kind of turnover? And I don't mean that critically. If you overlaid the '50s with free agency, would the Dodgers have been able to keep the team of Campanella, Snider, Robinson, Furillo and Hodges together?"

Is that bad? Is continuity critical?

Said Schuerholz: "I have a belief that no matter what the mix is, and this may be a reflection of society in general, the modern-day fan focuses only on winning and having a winning team. If a general manager puts a winning team together, that's more important to the fans than any issue of loyalty or how long a player has been with the team."

Claire said he didn't totally agree.

"If we listen to the fans, and I think we should, then I think there's a definite concern with the amount of movement," he said. "I look back to the early '70s when we made trades for players like Jimmy Wynn, Frank Robinson, Dusty Baker and Richie Allen.

"I think those were looked on as positive boosts for the ballclub and fan interest, but there has been a significant and dramatic shift from that positive point to a point where fans have difficulty identifying and relating to the players because of the movement.

"But having said that, I also recognize that with all the TV, radio and media attention now, the players are easily more identifiable, and it doesn't take long for a Brett Butler or Jody Reed to develop a following. It's also impossible anymore to build a club strictly through your farm system, though that's where our emphasis is."

Based on the year he was drafted, no National League player has been with his original club longer than Orel Hershiser, selected by the Dodgers in 1979.

Seven American League players have been with their original club longer than that. They are George Brett, with the Royals since 1971; Robin Yount, with the Brewers since 1973; Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell, with the Detroit Tigers since 1975 and '76, respectively; Cal Ripken Jr., with the Baltimore Orioles since 1978; Kent Hrbek, with the Twins since 1978, and Dave Valle, with the Mariners since 1978.

"I think the movement has been good for baseball," said Hershiser, echoing the players' union theme. "It used to be that the Yankees and Dodgers dominated. Now there's more parity, more competitive balance."

In the 16 years of free agency, all 12 of the established National League teams have won at least one divisional title, and 11 of the 14 American League teams have won at least one.

The average major league salary during that span has increased from $350,000 to more than $1 million, a process accelerated by arbitration. Clubs tend to move a potentially difficult contract case before the player becomes eligible for free agency or reaches the potentially higher arbitration levels. This adds to a turnover that has also been increased in recent years by the number of players simply released or not tendered a contract because of financial considerations.

However, the movement might be no greater than it has ever been--before or since free agency.

Leonard Koppett, a longtime baseball reporter with the New York Times and most recently a columnist and editor with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto, recently researched player movement and found that the average number of players who moved from one club to another since 1977, the first year of free agency, was 4.7, the same as it was from 1961, the first year of expansion, through 1976.

"There has been no increase in the movement of players," Koppett concluded. "The only change is in how players move. It used to be that they moved at the will of the club (through trade). Now they move, for the most part, at their own will (through free agency). I also looked at players in the Hall of Fame and found that two-thirds of them had been traded at some point. I mean, there is nothing new. Players have always moved or been moved, including the top players."

The perception among fans is that players are always motivated by greed and have no loyalty. Fans seldom see it as a two-way street.

Molitor, after two of the best of his 15 seasons with the Brewers, learned the truth when the Brewers offered him a one-year contract at a cut from his $3.1-million salary of 1992, and he eventually signed a three-year, $13-million deal with Toronto.

"I'm not someone who's real good with change," Molitor said. "I'd been spoiled by stability. I like to get something settled and stick with it. I thought I would end my career in Milwaukee, but I had to protect myself, I had to do what was best for me in a situation where I didn't think the Brewers were showing much respect for my performance of the last two years and the 15 years I had spent there.

"I can appreciate that salaries in professional sports are not something a lot of fans understand or have sympathy with, but when you're coming off two of your more healthy and productive seasons and they talk about cutting you more than a third of what you had been making, well, there's a lot of pride and principle involved. There's a lot of money, too, but the pride and principle was very important."

The big-market, small-market issue plays into this. The Brewers say that if they can't compete with the Blue Jays financially, they soon won't be able to compete in any other way. Richard Ravitch, president of the owners' Player Relations Committee, said player movement has "always been an area of concern. Continuity and identity is important to the fan."

Ravitch said that under the system he is trying to sell to the players' union, that movement would be reduced significantly.

"Players want stability just as much as the owners and fans do, but they also want the chance to earn the highest salary possible," Ravitch said. "The new system would give them that, because every club would be designating roughly the same percentage of revenue for salaries. There would be no reason to move, and it would be a much more competitive game because every club in every market would be operating on the same playing field."

Where They Went

Some of the major moves of an off-season in which more than 250 players changed teams:

NATIONAL LEAGUEATLANTA BRAVES

Greg Maddux (P)

CHICAGO CUBS

Randy Myers (P)

CINCINNATI REDS

Kevin Mitchell (OF)

John Smiley (P)

Roberto Kelly (OF)

HOUSTON ASTROS

Doug Drabek (P)

Greg Swindell (P)

DODGERS

Jody Reed (2B

Tim Wallach (3B)

Todd Worrell (P)

NEW YORK METS

Tony Fernandez (SS)

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Danny Jackson (P)

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Gregg Jefferies (IF)

SAN DIEGO PADRES

Mike Scioscia (C)

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Barry Bonds (OF)

AMERICAN LEAGUEBALTIMORE ORIOLES

Harold Baines (DH)

Harold Reynolds (2B)

BOSTON RED SOX

Ivan Calderon (OF)

Andre Dawson (OF)

Jeff Russell (P)

ANGELS

Chili Davis (DH)

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Ellis Burks (OF)

Dave Stieb (P)

DETROIT TIGERS

Mike Moore (P)

Kirk Gibson (OF)

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

David Cone (P)

Felix Jose (OF)

Jose Lind (2B)

Greg Gagne (SS)

MINNESOTA TWINS

Dave Winfield (OF)

NEW YORK YANKEES

Jim Abbott (P)

Wade Boggs (3B)

Jimmy Key (P)

SEATTLE MARINERS

Chris Bosio (P)

Norm Charlton (P)

TEXAS RANGERS

Tom Henke (P)

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Paul Molitor (DH)

Dave Stewart (P)

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