Baseball's winter meetings came to wild finish Wednesday night when the New York Mets acquired two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen in a five-player trade with Kansas City. The Mets paid heavily for the 27-year-old right-hander, giving up three starters: outfielder Kevin McReynolds and infielders Gregg Jefferies and Keith Miller. The Mets also received infielder Bill Pecota, who becomes the leading candidate to start at second base.
That trade came about 16 hours after the Seattle Mariners began the day with a big deal of their own, obtaining former National League MVP Kevin Mitchell from San Francisco. The Mariners gave up three right-handed pitchers: Bill Swift, Mike Jackson and Dave Burba. They also received left-hander Mike Remlinger.
Mitchell, 29, hit 47 home runs and drove in 125 runs during his 1989 MVP season. He has hit more home runs (109) than any other player over the past three seasons and has a career .275 average in six seasons with the Giants, Padres and Mets. The trade was made possible when rape and sexual-battery charges against Mitchell were dropped Monday.
Both trades were among the most overwhelming in recent years.
"I feel sort of like I did with the (Bobby) Bonilla deal. You're a little numb," Mets general manager Al Harazin said after the deal with the Royals. "This is a deal to win now."
Saberhagen said he was shocked. "The bottom line is it is a business and a lot of things happen," Saberhagen said. "I like to think the Mets got the better end of the deal."
Saberhagen joins a Mets rotation that includes a healthy David Cone and two other star pitchers recovering from injury: Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez. Both have said they expect to ready by Opening Day.
"I've been on a good pitching staffs before, but this one's got to rate up there with the best," Saberhagen said.
"I don't think too many people will look forward to seeing the Mets coming to town," manager Jeff Torborg said.
The trade continues a massive reconstruction under new general manager Harazin. The Mets signed free agents Eddie Murray and Bobby Bonilla, traded away outfielder Hubie Brooks earlier this week, then late Wednesday made the deal for Saberhagen, who won the Cy Young in 1985 and 1989.
"I think we gave up a lot of talent but I think we got one of the best pitchers in baseball," Harazin said. "I will leave it to you as to whether we overpaid."
The trade also meant a new chance for Tampa's Dave Magadan, who figured to be traded once the Mets signed Murray to play first base. Torborg said Magadan will compete with Chris Donnels for the third-base job with Pecota starting at second. The outfield will be Howard Johnson, Vince Coleman and Bonilla.
The Royals made no attempt to hide how hard it was to give up Saberhagen, the cornerstone of their team, who has a 110-78 career record and 3.21 ERA in eight seasons. He was 13-8 with a 3.07 ERA this year.
Asked how he would replace Saberhagen, manager Hal McRae said: "Pray."
But given what they perceived as a serious lack of offense and coming off two disappointing seasons, the Royals felt obliged to make a deal. "We had to take some risks and do some things you don't like to do," general manager Herk Robinson said. "We were able to fill three holes with everyday ballplayers."
McRae said they had not decided how to use the new players, but McReynolds will be counted on to replace free agent Danny Tartabull. Miller will be second baseman, while Jefferies will play either third base or leftfield. McReynolds will play left if Jefferies is in the infield and right if Jefferies is in left.
McRae said he was excited over the offense these three new starters would provide, along with the addition of first baseman Wally Joyner. The Royals also acquired catcher Bob Melvin from Baltimore for pitcher Storm Davis.
"I think I have been given a chance to win," McRae said.
The Mariners hope the trade for Mitchell, the biggest deal in their 15-year history, does the same for them. Just as importantly, they were happy they were able to get the long-needed right-handed slugger without having to give up either of their top starters _ Erik Hanson or Randy Johnson.
"We made a decision not to deal Hanson and Johnson, and we stayed with that and were able to work this out a different way," Mariners general manager Woody Woodward said. "We were hoping to add a powerful bat to the middle of our lineup and I feel like we completed that goal."
"It's going to be fun. Maybe we can get a winner up there," Mitchell said.
The Mariners are excited not only about what their new leftfielder can do with his bat, but also the batting protection he will provide for Ken Griffey Jr. And in the compact environs of Seattle'e Kingdome or St. Petersburg's Florida Suncoast Dome, he is almost a sure bet to break the team record of 32 home runs, set by Gorman Thomas in 1985.
Rookie manager Bill Plummer was excited to see the team's largest weakness filled. "He's a veteran winning-type player who has been very successful at the major-league level," Plummer said. "He's a 30-homer, 100-plus RBI guy. Those guys are hard to find."
Mitchell has been labeled somewhat of a malcontent during his career, missing and arriving late for team functions, but the M's anticipate no problems.
"To tell you Kevin was a choir boy would be incorrect," Giants president Al Rosen said, "but I never had to go to the police station to get him. He wasn't a problem for me."
Mitchell is entering the second season of a four-year, $15-million contract that pays him an average annual salary of $3.75-million. He becomes the M's highest-paid player ever, but M's owner Jeff Smulyan said the salary is not a problem for the fiscally conservative team, because Swift and Jackson were likely to make that much combined next season.
The Giants, who finished 1991 with the league's worst pitching staff, helped themselves with three young arms. Swift, 30, was the M's top reliever, recording 17 saves along with a 1.99 ERA and 1-2 record. The Giants plan to make him a starter. Jackson, who has 14 saves, will go into the Giants bullpen. Burba also will start. Remlinger, 25, was 5-5 at Triple A and 2-1 in the majors as a starter.
In other trades Wednesday:
The Reds continued their impressive restocking, acquiring outfielder Dave Martinez, left-handed setup man Scott Ruskin and minor-league infielder Willie Greene (a former No. 1 draft choice of Pittsburgh) from the Expos for right-handed pitchers John Wetteland and Bill Risley. Wetteland, acquired last month from Los Angeles in the Eric Davis trade, is considered a top-notch pitching prospect.
The Dodgers filled their hole at first base by obtaining Todd Benzinger from Kansas City in exchange for outfielder Chris Gwynn (brother of Tony) and minor-leaguer Domingo Mota.
The Phillies shored up their infield by getting Dale Sveum from Milwaukee for left-handed pitcher Bruce Ruffin.
The Mets acquired left-handed reliever Steve Rosenberg from San Diego for infielder Jeff Gardner.
The Indians obtained pitchers Dennis Cook and Mike Christopher from the Dodgers for pitcher Rudy Seanez.
Braves: Relief pitcher Juan Berenguer should be recovered enough from August surgery on his forearm to be at spring training, the team said.
Angels: California is close to signing free agent Otis Nixon, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Red Sox: A Houston police officer testifying against Roger Clemens acknowledged that he is considering suing the pitcher. Louis Ovieto said he suffered neck and back injuries Jan. 19 while subduing Clemens and his brother, Gary Clemens.
To the Mariners:
OF Kevin Mitchell
P Mike Remlinger
To the Giants:
P Bill Swift
P Mike Jackson
P Dave Burba
To the Mets:
P Bret Saberhagen
IF Bill Pecota
To the Royals:
OF Kevin McReynolds
IF Gregg Jefferies
IF Keith Miller
_ Associated Press reports were used in this roundup.