Major League Baseball winter meetings begin

Posted: Monday, December 16, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The winter meetings sprung to life Sunday night after 2 1/2 days of inactivity, with Edgardo Alfonzo signing with San Francisco and four quick trades that sent Erubiel Durazo, Jeremy Giambi and Rey Ordonez to new teams.

Alfonzo, cut loose by the New York Mets, agreed to a $26 million, four-year contract with the Giants.

On the trade front, a four-team deal sent Durazo from Arizona to Oakland, pitcher Elmer Dessens from Cincinnati to the Diamond-backs, shortstop Felipe Lopez from Toronto to the Reds and a player to be named -- possibly minor league pitcher Jason Arnold -- to the Blue Jays.

Boston acquired Giambi from Philadelphia for pitcher Josh Hancock; Tampa Bay got Ordonez from the Mets for two players to be named; and St. Louis received Brett Tomko from San Diego for Luther Hackman in a swap of right-handed pitchers.

Even bigger deals were being discussed, with payroll-slashing Montreal talking to Atlanta, Boston, the Yankees, Arizona and Florida about trades involving pitchers Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez, moves that could decide whether Roger Clemens remains in New York.

Also, free agent shortstop Deivi Cruz agreed to a one-year contract with Baltimore while Pittsburgh reached a preliminary agreement with outfielder Matt Stairs on a one-year deal worth $900,000.

But overall, with one day remaining in the annual swap session, moves were hard to come by. Teams kept feeling each other out about trades without finalizing them, and free agents waited on the sidelines, unable to elicit firm offers from clubs

''The ability to communicate is much greater now. More things happen year round,'' Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. ''This is a 24-hour job. At home, the only thing we respect is when the kids are sleeping. We've also got silencers on our cell phones.''

Alfonzo played third base for the Mets last season, moving from second when New York acquired Roberto Alomar, and it was not immediately clear if his signing affects the Giants' negotiations with former NL MVP Jeff Kent.

The Giants already have signed free-agent second baseman Ray Dur-ham, but it is possible Durham could be put in the outfield with Kent remaining at second. Kent also could play first base instead of J.T. Snow.

Montreal general manager Omar Minaya, under orders from the commissioner's office to keep his team's payroll at about $40 million, has become the central figure in the meetings, talking with 20 of the 30 teams about possible trades.

''I think I know how to get to my target number,'' he said. ''How I get there? There are so many different ways.''

In exchange for one of his starting pitchers, Minaya asked the New York Yankees for pitcher Orlando Hernandez, first baseman Nick Johnson, outfielder Juan Rivera, another prospect and money to pay Hernandez's salary, a baseball official said on the condition of anonymity. Hernandez made $3.2 million last season and is eligible for salary arbitration.

If Yankees GM Brian Cashman obtains Colon or Vazquez, he says the team would cut off negotiations with Clemens. The six-time Cy Young Award winner, who is 40, is seven wins shy of 300 and wants to stay with New York.

''If he does not sign with the Yankees, we'd be interested in the Rangers,'' agent Randy Hendricks said.

Clemens, 13-6 with a 4.35 ERA last year, also could be interested in rejoining Boston, his team from 1984 to 1996, or the Mets, a team he has feuded with since beaning Mike Piazza more than two years ago.

''There will be a lot of interest in Roger,'' Hendricks said. ''We've taken calls but we said our primary interest is staying with the Yankees."

If he doesn't, we'll take other calls. We're not worried about him not getting a job.''

Oakland had spent a long time putting a deal together to obtain Durazo, likely to be the A's designated hitter and the backup to first baseman Scott Hatteberg.

''Durazo's almost been my Holy Grail,'' Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. ''I have been following this guy for three years.''

Durazo, 28, hit .261 last season with 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 222 at-bats, competing for playing time with Mark Grace.

As a backup plan, Beane was also talking to the Phillies about reacquiring Giambi, the former Athletic whose trade to Boston was announced minutes later.

Lopez, 22, batted .227 with eight homers and 34 RBIs. Dessens, a 30-year-old right-hander, went 7-8 with a 3.03 ERA in 30 starts.

He fits into the rotation behind co-aces Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson.

''We see him as a solid No. 3 starter,'' GM Joe Garagiola Jr. said. ''It takes a lot of pressure off the whole staff.''

Giambi will have a chance to be Boston's regular first baseman, but to do so he will have to improve defensively. If not, he will fill a hole at DH and possibly help out in left field.

Brother Jason, of course, is with the Yankees.

''It is a huge rivalry. I think it's going to be great to have that going on,'' Jeremy Giambi said. ''It's a World Series atmosphere every time New York plays Boston and I think this is only going to make it better

Ordonez spent seven years with the Mets, earning three Gold Gloves and winning fans over with his breathtaking defense.

But New York, which will pay between $4.5 million and $5 million of Ordonez's $6.25 million salary, soured on him last season, as his usual offensive struggles were joined by inconsistent fielding. Ordonez then called Mets fans ''stupid'' at the end of the year, another factor.

''This was our most pressing need: shortstop,'' new Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. ''How do you help young pitching? By catching the ball. That's one thing Rey can do.''

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