A potential three-team trade that would have sent Angel first baseman Mo Vaughn to the New York Mets and Angel closer Troy Percival to the Dodgers all but dissolved Thursday, but the Mets' interest in a Vaughn-for-Kevin Appier swap remains strong.
A Met contingent that included General Manager Steve Phillips, Manager Bobby Valentine and assistant GM Omar Minaya traveled to Easton, Mass., to watch Vaughn take batting practice Thursday, a baseball source said.
And while they were apparently satisfied with the Angel slugger, who missed the entire 2001 season because of surgery to repair a ruptured biceps tendon, they may have violated baseball's tampering rules by watching Vaughn.
Angel General Manager Bill Stoneman said he was "not aware" of the Mets' visit, adding that New York did not ask for permission to scout Vaughn. Stoneman said he plans to contact Met officials and possibly the commissioner's office today to investigate the matter.
The Angels also on Thursday declined to tender 2002 contracts to right-hander Shigetoshi Hasegawa and left-hander Mike Holtz, decisions that were apparently made either to clear room on their roster and payroll for players to be acquired in trades, or to cut costs. Both key members of the bullpen were eligible for arbitration but now are free agents.
Financial issues also threw a snag into trade talks between the Angels and Mets for Vaughn, the 1995 American League most valuable player who is owed $50 million over the next three years--$40 million in salary, a $2 million buyout for a 2005 club option, and an $8-million payment in 2003, the deferred portion of a $13-million signing bonus Vaughn received when he signed his six-year, $80-million deal in 1998.
The Angels are on the hook for the $8 million signing bonus, but that still leaves a $10-million difference between Vaughn's contract and the $32 million Appier, a 34-year-old right-hander who went 11-10 with a 3.57 earned-run average in 2001, is owed over the next three years.
A source familiar with negotiations said the Mets, who do not want their payroll to increase much higher than its current $95-million range, have asked the Angels to absorb a bigger chunk of Vaughn's contract or to accept more high-salaried players in a trade.
New York offered both first baseman Todd Zeile, who will make $6 million in 2002, and shortstop Rey Ordonez, who will make $12.25 million over the next two years, in separate packages that included Appier, and the Angels declined both.
The Mets were also under the assumption earlier Thursday that any trade for Vaughn would be contingent on the Angels reaching agreement with the Dodgers on Percival, the disgruntled closer who has said he would not re-sign with the Angels after 2002. But the Dodgers could not package the right players with Matt Herges, a right-handed set-up man who has the potential to be a closer, to entice the Angels.
As part of the three-way deal, the Dodgers were trying to send outfielder Marquis Grissom to the Angels, and the Mets were trying to send utility infielder Lenny Harris to the Dodgers. The Angels were more interested in Dodger prospects than big league players.
That the Angels would be willing to send Percival to the arch-rival Dodgers surprised many baseball observers. "It seems like there's too many pieces involved," one baseball source said of the Angel-Met-Dodger negotiations Thursday afternoon. "Where it looked light it might work Wednesday night, it seems to be unraveling [Thursday]."
By early Thursday evening, the Dodgers were no longer part of the deal. But a source said that would not preclude the Angels and Mets from consummating a trade with Vaughn and Appier as the primary components.
Hasegawa and Holtz, both major bullpen contributors for the past five years, are now ex-Angels. Holtz, who went 1-2 with a 4.86 ERA in 63 games last season, became expendable after the Angels signed left-hander Dennis Cook to a one-year, $1.25-million contract Wednesday. Holtz made $705,000 in 2001, and his salary could have doubled through arbitration.
Hasegawa's release was more surprising. The Japanese right-hander had been one of the Angels' most popular and effective relievers, going 30-27 with a 3.85 ERA in five seasons. He made $1.15 million in 2001 and could have jumped to at least $2 million in 2002.
Hasegawa had his best season in 2000, when he went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA and nine saves in 66 games. But he was slowed by a shoulder injury in 2001 and went 5-6 with a 4.04 ERA in 46 games.
"Shige has been a good performer for five years, but he slipped a little last year," Stoneman said. "I'm not going to get into [the health issues], but looking at him compared to his past performance, we thought maybe it was time to try someone different."