MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The White Rat may have saved the winter meetings.
Newly appointed California Angels senior vice president Whitey Herzog wasted little time turning baseball's annual trading convention into both a stage and a soapbox. He completed the first major trade of the meetings yesterday, acquiring outfielder Von Hayes from the Philadelphia Phillies for two prospects, then went on a tirade against the agent who steered free-agent outfielder Bobby Bonilla to the New York Mets.
In the process, Herzog positioned the Angels as the most prominent -- and interesting -- of the 26 major-league teams that have come to the Fontainebleau Resort for a week of trade talks and transactions.
He gave up promising pitcher Kyle Abbott and outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr. to acquire Hayes, a 10-year veteran who missed 73 games last season with a broken arm. Hayes, 34, batted .225 with no home runs and 21 RBI, but still is considered a solid run-producer who figures to start in right field for the Angels.
"We also hope to do some other things," Herzog said. "We finished 13th in the league in runs scored, 13th in home runs and 13th in on-base percentage last year."
The trade assured that the sometimes staid winter meetings would not be eventless, but it took a back seat to the feud that has erupted between Herzog and agent Dennis Gilbert.
Herzog has been furious since Bonilla signed a record five-year, $29 million contract with the Mets. He felt that the Angels had reached a tentative agreement with Bonilla, only to have Gilbert use it to bid up his client in Philadelphia and New York.
The animosity even has affected the Angels' interest in free agent Danny Tartabull, another Gilbert client and the most attractive position player left on the free-agent market. When the Angels failed to sign Bonilla, Tartabull seemed like an obvious second choice, but Herzog said yesterday that he wasn't interested.
"If he changed agents I might be interested in him," Herzog said. "I don't like what happened with Bonilla. I'm never going to make another offer to a Dennis Gilbert client."
Gilbert said he was "shocked" to hear Herzog's comments, but conceded he may take a different approach in the Tartabull negotiations.
"I'm not going to discuss teams this time," he said, "because the situation with Bonilla has definitely strained some relationships. There were some hard feelings."
Hard feelings seem to run deep in the Angels organization. Negotiations with free-agent first baseman Wally Joyner have not been particularly friendly, either.
Joyner appears to be close to signing a four-year, $15.75 million contract, but Herzog appears to be caught in the middle of a long-running feud between the veteran first baseman and Angels ownership.
"I feel like a divorce lawyer," Herzog said. "The animosity between him and the people who run the Angels is amazing."
Herzog hinted that the club might be close to withdrawing from the negotiations entirely. The Hayes deal gives them a player who could share first base with promising Lee Stevens if Joyner does not return.
"It's really up to me," Herzog said. "Whether he should even be an Angel or not . . . I have some questions about that."
The Angels have a lot of questions to answer. They have to decide, for instance, whether to trade pitcher Chuck Finley or attempt to re-sign him before he becomes a free agent next year. They also must decide whether to re-sign pitcher Kirk McCaskill or leave him to negotiate with the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox.
Finley, who might be the best left-handed starting pitcher in the American League, would draw substantial interest if he was put up for trade, but Herzog said he will make a strong bid to sign him before considering a deal.
Agents Alan and Randy Hendricks were scheduled to arrive in Miami Beach last night to begin face-to-face negotiations, but their initial contract demands left the Angels wondering if they would be able to afford to keep Finley.
"At the present time, we're not prepared to meet that demand, so we're shopping him now," Herzog said. "But I'll tell you one thing: What he's asking for, he'll get."
The Orioles would figure to have some interest in a pitcher who won 18 games each of the past two years playing for a club that didn't finish over .500 either time, but GM Roland Hemond may not have the depth -- or the budget -- to acquire him.