Trading Bret Saberhagen away from Kansas City turned out to be a difficult experience for everyone involved.
The Royals traded Saberhagen and infielder Bill Pecota to the New York Mets late Wednesday night for Kevin McReynolds, Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller in the biggest deal of the winter meetings.Mets general manager Al Harazin felt nervous just talking about the deal while the teams put it together and Royals GM Herk Robinson realizes dealing away the two-time Cy Young winner might not be a popular decision. Saberhagen is a little uneasy about it, too.
"It's going to be a hard time trying to adjust to a new league and a new city," said Saberhagen, 110-78 lifetime and 13-8 last season with a 3.08 ERA. "We really liked it here in Kansas City."
Saberhagen, 27, grew up in the Royals organization and won the Cy Young in 1985 with a 20-6 record and in 1989 with a 23-6 mark. He led the Royals to a World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in '85 at the age of 21.
"I'm kind of shocked," Saberhagen said. "When the phone rang, my wife answered and said it was Herk. I said, `We must have gotten traded.' She looked at me like there's no way. But I guess the bottom line is it's a business."
The bottom line for the Royals was two consecutive seasons when things didn't go quite as expected.
"What we did was a difficult thing," Robinson said. "We have finished sixth the last two seasons, so if Bret Saberhagen won four more Cy Young Awards and we didn't win, it doesn't mean a thing."
Saberhagen joins a starting rotation which includes Dwight Gooden, David Cone and Sid Fernandez. Gooden, however, is coming off shoulder surgery and the Mets came to the meetings looking for a starter.
"I've won two Cy Youngs and I've been there a long time," Saberhagen said. "You kinda think of yourself as a fixture, and I thought I would always be there."
The Mets had extra players to trade after signing free agent first baseman Eddie Murray and outfielder Bobby Bonilla. New York and Kansas City had been discussing pitchers Kevin Appier and Tom Gordon, but the Royals liked their future too much.
McReynolds, 32, is coming off a disappointing season when he hit .259 with 16 homers and 74 RBIs. He is a lifetime .269 hitter and one of the best defensive left fielders around.
The Mets had high hopes for Jefferies, 24, when he joined the club in 1988, projecting him as a .300 hitter. But he had trouble adjusting to the pressures of New York and did not fit in with his teammates. Jefferies hit .272 last season with nine homers and 62 RBIs.
"To get a player like Bret Saberhagen, you have to give something up," Harazin said. "We think Jefferies is going to be a great player."At one point, Jefferies even sent an open letter to the fans of New York explaining how he was mistreated by his teammates.
The Mets always had trouble finding a place to play him. He came up as a third baseman and was later moved to second base. But he had trouble handling either position.
New York, considered a pennant contender, had a miserable year in 1991 and finished fifth in the NL East. They played September before a lot of empty seats at Shea Stadium. If anything, the addition of Bonilla, Murray and Saberhagen should help the advance ticket sale.
Just before the end of the season, Frank Cashen stepped down as general manager and Harazin moved in.
Harazin moved fast to keep the Mets from sinking to the bottom by hiring Jeff Torborg to manage and signing Murray for $7.5 million over two years and Bonilla for a record $29 million, five-year deal.
Saberhagen made $2.95 million last season and was inconsistent. He did pitch the first no-hitter of his career, however, on Aug. 26 against Torborg's Chicago White Sox.
The Mets felt they needed a solid starter because Frank Viola may be leaving as a free agent and Gooden may not be ready until May or June.
The Royals have also made a major push for first in the West by signing free agent first baseman Wally Joyner at the meetings and now adding Jefferies and McReynolds.
"Our offense is a lot stronger now," Royals manager Hal McRae said. "And I think we will have enough pitching."
Miller played second base for the Mets last season and was penciled in to be a starter this season. The Mets plan to play Pecota at second and will try Dave Magadan and Chris Donnels at third base.
"We feel we're better in a lot of ways," Harazin said. "Jeff thinks this will help the chemistry."
A few minutes after the deal was announced, Torborg was greeted by Baltimore executive Frank Robinson.
"All I want to know is who is going to finish second in the East?" Robinson said.
In another Winter meetings trade action:
- The Los Angeles Dodgers addressed their shortcomings at first base and gave outfielder Chris Gwynn his long-awaited reprieve, trading him to the Kansas City Royals for switch-hitting Todd Benzinger.
Gwynn, who was drafted by the Dodgers in June 1985, was the team's last first-round draft pick to reach the major leagues.
- The Royals also sent Storm Davis to the Baltimore Orioles for Bob Melvin.
Davis, 29, played five years in Baltimore before going on to San Diego, Oakland and Kansas City. He was 3-9 with a 4.96 ERA last season as a spot starter for the Royals, and is 102-81 with a 4.01 ERA lifetime.
- The New York Mets acquired left-hander Steve Rosenberg from the San Diego Padres on Wednesday for infielder Jeff Gardner.
Rosenberg, 27, had a record of 1-1 with a 6.94 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Padres in 1991. He spent most of the season with Class AAA Las Vegas, going 2-4 with a 7.45 ERA.
- Cincinnati traded right-handers John Wetteland and Bill Risley to Montreal for outfielder Dave Martinez, reliever Scott Ruskin and a minor leaguer.
Wetteland, 25, was acquired along with pitcher Tim Belcher on Nov. 27 when the Reds sent outfielder Eric Davis to Los Angeles.
- The Milwaukee Brewers' new management sent utility infielder Dale Sveum to the Philadelphia Phillies for left-hander Bruce Ruffin.