Orioles' Hemond had his hook baited, but the Mets reeled in the big fish

BASEBALL

December 15, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

Baltimore Orioles general manager Roland Hemond returned from a brief nap on the beach the other day, looking very much the Florida tourist. It was the shirt that blew his cover.

The silk-screen design showed a large fish on the hook and put the annual winter meetings very much in perspective.

It read: "I'd rather be marlin fishing in Cabo San Lucas."

Hemond will get his wish soon. He will travel home to California this week and take the family on a Christmas vacation to Mexico. Perhaps he'll even drop a line in the water.

It didn't take him long to figure out that there were no big fish to be caught in Florida, where the Orioles and everybody else went to watch the New York Mets put together the best team in baseball. The Mets got two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen to go with free agents Bobby Bonilla and Eddie Murray. The Orioles got Storm Davis to go with minor-league free agent Eric Hetzel and Rule V draftee Darrell Sherman. So it goes.

This is offered for the purpose of contrast, not criticism. The Davis deal could turn out very well for the Orioles, or it could turn out to be insignificant. Most of the deals struck last week fall into the same category. A record number (51) of players changed teams, but only a handful of them will have an impact on the outcome of the 1992 season.

Saberhagen is certain to. The Mets will enter the season with a rotation that also includes David Cone, Sid Fernandez, Dwight Gooden and -- if all goes well -- Frank Viola. They should not lack for run support.

Power hitter Kevin Mitchell should help the Seattle Mariners if he can adjust to American League pitchers.

Outfielder Dave Martinez is considered an important acquisition for the Cincinnati Reds, though no one can really explain why. It can't have anything to do with his career statistics.

The winter meetings are not exciting. They are to baseball what the laborious 20-minute wedding scene was to "The Deer Hunter." All setup. But this year's convention was better than advertised, thanks to the White Rat and the rest of strange managerie that populated the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort for the better part of a week.

There were plenty of headlines, and not a few punch lines. Here is a look back at some of them:

Headline: Hayes traded to Angels

Story line: In the first significant deal of the meetings, the California Angels dealt first-round draft choice Kyle Abbott and promising outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr. for 33-year-old outfielder Von Hayes, who had 21 RBI last year.

Punch line: Hayes finally got traded, ending nine years of speculation about his future with the Philadelphia Phillies. Now it will be known as his past with the Philadelphia Phillies, which is all the Angels may be getting for two top prospects and about $2 million.

*

Headline: Herzog blasts agent

Story line: Angels senior vice president Whitey Herzog harshly criticized agent Dennis Gilbert after the Angels lost a bidding war for free-agent outfielder Bobby Bonilla. Herzog thought the Angels had a deal for $27.5 million. Gilbert used it to bid the price up to $29 million before placing Bonilla with the Mets, prompting Herzog to claim he would never bid on another Gilbert client.

Punch line: The Angels may have no choice but to bid on another Gilbert client. Outfielder Danny Tartabull is the only quality run-producer left on the market. The Angels gave up 182 RBI when they bought out Dave Winfield and lost Wally Joyner to free agency. They regained only 71 when they acquired Hayes and Hubie Brooks. This was not a good offensive club to begin with.

*

Headline: Mariners acquire Mitchell

Story line: The Mariners traded Bill Swift, Mike Jackson and Dave Burba to the San Francisco Giants for Mitchell, who had just been cleared of a rape charge a few days earlier. The Giants claimed the move was made for purely baseball reasons, but it wasn't hard to put two and two together. It isn't the first time Mitchell has been in trouble with the law.

Punch line: The deal probably was made for purely baseball reasons, but conspiracy theorists have to wonder if the trade isn't a well-orchestrated attempt to frighten the city of Seattle into letting the Mariners move to Florida.

*

Headline: Hemond frustrated with Expos

Story line: Hemond expressed frustration after the Montreal Expos seemingly lost interest in acquiring Orioles first baseman Randy Milligan. "Our patience with them is exhausted," Hemond said. "They don't seem to want to make a deal.

Punch line: The Expos do want to make a deal; they just don't want Milligan. Rumor has it that they wanted to trade pitcher Brian Barnes and infielder Bret Barberie for the new Camden Yards ballpark, which could be dismantled and moved to Montreal for about $100 million less than it takes to build a bleacher section in Quebec.

*

Headline: Nixon re-signs with Braves

Story line: Outfielder Otis Nixon, whose drug-related suspension extends into the 1992 season, signed a two-year contract with the Atlanta Braves that calls for $5.6 million in guaranteed salary and a player option on 1994 that could make the deal worth a total of $8.1 million.

Punch line: Baseball has made its position on drug abuse very clear. If you can't say no to drugs, the very least you can do is settle for a two-year contract.

*

Headline: Mets win National League pennant.

Story line: The Mets have been declared the winner of the 1992 National League pennant. The other 11 clubs voted last week to concede the division title and playoffs and allow the Mets to spend the summer preparing for the World Series.

Punch line: That was the punch line.

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