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Edmonds Deal Is in the Cards

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A six-year Angel career marked by spectacular defensive plays, unfulfilled promise and never-ending trade rumors came to a close Thursday when center fielder Jim Edmonds was sent to the St. Louis Cardinals for all-star pitcher Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy, five days after General Manager Bill Stoneman told Edmonds he was off the trading block.

The Angels hope to fill two holes with the deal, adding an 18-game winner who, though he is no Cy Young Award candidate, should bolster a rotation many consider the worst in baseball and a good-hitting second base prospect who is expected to win the job over the undistinguished cast of candidates the Angels have auditioned this spring.

But there was no denying the considerable hole left by Edmonds, a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who in 1997 made one of the best catches in baseball history, racing to the warning track in Kansas City for a full-extension, over-the-shoulder diving grab of David Howard’s drive in front of the wall, and who has the potential to hit .300 with 30-35 home runs and 100 runs batted in every season.

“I’ve seen Jim make a dozen plays where you just say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ ” Angel right fielder Tim Salmon said. “He has a great arm and the ability to make the off-balance throw to third. He banged into the wall a ton of times, making great plays.

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“He has such a beautiful swing, I’d get jealous of it, and in pressure-packed situations he seemed so relaxed. He has that flair. He’ll be missed. But at the same time, none of us should be surprised. We’ve been preparing for this for three years.”

Still, Salmon admitted feeling some shock, possibly because after a winter of intense rumors that Edmonds would be traded to the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners or Oakland A’s, Stoneman announced publicly Sunday that Edmonds “would be an Angel all season.”

Others thought Stoneman was sending up a flare.

“When we heard Stoneman say Jim wasn’t getting traded, I don’t know what it meant to you guys, but to a lot of us it was a sign something was going to happen,” Angel shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. “It was the kiss of death.”

Stoneman, however, said he was “dead serious” when he told Edmonds and the teams pursuing him at the time that he was off the market. The Cardinals, however, were not one of those teams Stoneman called over the weekend.

After St. Louis and Anaheim discussed a deal over the winter, talks cooled this spring. But when Cardinal scout Bob Gebhard told Stoneman Monday they might be willing to add Kennedy to a trade for a pitcher, Stoneman called St. Louis General Manager Walt Jocketty Tuesday, and the deal quickly materialized.

“It became apparent we might be able to fill two needs,” Stoneman said. “It made so much sense that we had to do it.”

The Angels, for years saddled with the pleasant problem of having four top-notch outfielders, will move Garret Anderson from left field to center. Darin Erstad will play left, and Todd Greene becomes the team’s top designated hitter candidate, though Manager Mike Scioscia said Greene and Scott Spiezio, another second base candidate, could platoon at designated hitter.

The trade hurts the Angels offensively and defensively, but Scioscia believes it gives them better balance.

“A talent like Jim’s is not going to be replaced,” Scioscia said. “Fortunately for us, we have enough guys so the impact won’t be as great offensively, and Garret is an experienced center fielder. This strengthens us in a couple of areas.”

Especially if Bottenfield, a 31-year-old right-hander who will make $4 million this season and will be a free agent after 2000, can repeat his 1999 performance. Bottenfield came up through the Montreal system as a hard-throwing starter but spent most of his six-year big league career as a reliever.

He doesn’t throw nearly as hard now, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder had a breakthrough season in 1999, going 18-7 with a 3.97 earned-run average, striking out 124 and walking 89 in 190 1/3 innings. His previous career-high for wins was five. He was 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four spring appearances.

“He found himself in St. Louis,” Stoneman said. “His blazing fastball is gone, but he could throw to a dime and hit it. He understands pitching and has great control. He won’t strike out a lot of guys, but he’ll make them put the ball in play.”

That’s Kennedy’s specialty with the bat. The Riverside J.W. North High graduate is a line-drive hitter who makes contact and rarely strikes out. A first-round pick in 1997, the 24-year-old was named St. Louis’ 1999 minor league player of the year after batting .327 with 10 homers and 63 RBIs for triple-A Memphis.

Kennedy, who is considered more advanced offensively than defensively, played 33 games for the Cardinals last summer, batting .255 with 16 RBIs. But St. Louis’ trade for Fernando Vina blocked Kennedy’s path to the big leagues.

“We think he’s ready,” Stoneman said. “We’re going to throw him right into the mix at second.”

Out of the Angel outfield mix is Edmonds, who grew up in Diamond Bar and spent 12 years with his hometown organization but was bracing to leave as a free agent after 2000. The 29-year-old joins a lineup that features slugger Mark McGwire and a tradition-rich franchise he listed among nine he would like to sign a contract extension with should he be traded.

“It’s going to be tough leaving my hometown, but I’m really looking forward to playing with that team,” said Edmonds, who was pulled from Thursday’s Cactus League game against Oakland in the seventh inning, left Tempe Diablo Stadium without speaking to reporters but spoke briefly with the St. Louis media on a conference call. “Just seeing what they did for McGwire, I’m excited to come there and see how they supposedly treat their baseball team.”

Edmonds has taken his share of abuse, mostly from former teammates and coaches who feel he hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed during a breakthrough 1995 season when he hit .290 with 33 homers, 107 RBIs and 120 runs and was tabbed as one of the best young center fielders in the game.

But nagging injuries and growing questions about his intensity and desire--whether warranted--chipped away at Edmonds’ reputation.

Edmonds hit .304 with 27 homers and only 66 RBIs in 1996, missing almost two months because of a strained abdomen and groin and a sprained right thumb.

In 1997, Edmonds hit .291 with 26 homers and 80 RBIs but missed 29 games because of a variety of minor injuries. Edmonds had an excellent 1998, batting .307 with 25 homers and 91 RBIs, and while most Angels wilted down the stretch, he hit .340 with five homers and 20 RBIs that September.

But after an ultra-intense Angel team was eliminated from playoff contention on the final Friday of the season, Edmonds enraged teammates when he breezed into the clubhouse the next day with a grin and a care-free demeanor. The knock on Edmonds: He didn’t take losing hard enough.

“Jim smiles a lot and is outgoing--that’s his personality--but you can’t act like that when you’re on the verge of elimination,” DiSarcina said in the wake of the 1998 finish. “You can’t bounce into the clubhouse without a care in the world when your teammates are bloodied, ticked off and not wanting to go home.

“I was aggravated and disgusted with how he acted sometimes, and he rubbed some people the wrong way, but he’s like a little brother. You just have to wait until he matures. I think we saw that when he played with two knee injuries in 1997 and played [154 games] in 1998.”

But 1999 was a major setback. Edmonds was sidelined by a sore groin in the final week of March, and the weekend before the start of the season he tore ligaments in his non-throwing shoulder lifting weights. Many wondered why Edmonds was even in the weight room, considering he was hurt.

Edmonds then revealed his shoulder had been bothering him for several years and that he could have had surgery, which required a four-month recovery process, to correct the problem the previous October.

Edmonds finally underwent surgery in April and sat out the first four months of the season, his loss one of numerous injuries that contributed to the Angels’ disappointing last-place finish in the American League West.

Several Angels felt betrayed and vented their frustration, saying that if Edmonds had his priorities in order, he would have had surgery in the off-season.

“He took a lot of heat for being himself, but it’s tough to see him go, I’m going to miss him,” DiSarcina said. “But if this deal makes our team better, I think everyone will be excited by it.”

Salmon said the deal “looks pretty good so far . . . but if Jim wins the National League MVP award, Bill [Stoneman] will have to live with that one.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Trade / To Angels

Kent Bottenfield (left)

pitcher

4-4 with a 4.26 ERA after All-Star break and his season ended two starts early because of shoulder problems.

Adam Kennedy (right)

second baseman

His fine statistics in the minors (.327 average and a .490 slugging percentage) didn’t translate into much success during his short trial in St. Louis.

To St. Louis

Jim Edmonds,

center field

His erratic career with Angels ends, and not a moment too soon, according to some former teammates.

Projected Angel Lineup

Darin Erstad: LF

Garret Anderson: CF

Tim Salmon: RF

Mo Vaughn: 1B

Troy Glaus: 3B

Scott Spiezio/Todd Greene: DH

Ben Molina: C

Adam Kennedy/Spiezio: 2B

Gary DiSarcina: SS

Rotation--Kent Bottenfield, Ken Hill, Tim Belcher, Kent Mercker, Tom Candiotti

Closer--Troy Percival

Edmonds to Cardinals

Jim Edmonds’ career statistics:

*--*

Year Team G AB R H HR RBI BB SO SB BA 1993 Angels 18 61 5 15 0 4 2 16 0 .246 1994 Angels 94 289 35 79 5 37 30 72 4 .273 1995 Angels 141 558 120 162 33 107 51 130 1 .290 1996 Angels 114 431 73 131 27 66 46 101 4 .304 1997 Angels 133 502 82 146 26 80 60 80 5 .291 1998 Angels 154 599 115 184 25 91 57 114 7 .307 1999 Angels 55 204 34 51 5 23 28 45 5 .250 Totals 709 2644 464 768 121 408 274 558 26 .290

*--*


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