OAKLAND, Calif. -- It remained for the team with the major leagues' best record to make the most noise shortly before last night's trading deadline.
While most contenders looked for ways to tinker with spare parts, the Oakland Athletics restructured their foundation. Sometime after the start of last night's game against the Orioles, the A's traded outfielder Jose Canseco to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Ruben Sierra, starting pitcher Bobby Witt, reliever Jeff Russell and an undisclosed amount of cash (believed to be the maximum allowed, $400,000).
A shocked Canseco was notified of the deal just before going to the on-deck circle while the A's were hitting in the bottom of the first inning. "Tom Reynolds [an A's coach] called me back and I was expecting him to say something like, 'Make sure you stay back against this guy [Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina],' " said Canseco, who attended a news conference in the basement of the Oakland Coliseum still dressed in his A's uniform.
"Instead, he told me, 'Jose, I've got to tell you something serious -- you've been traded.' I thought, 'This isn't April Fool's Day. It's a bad time for a joke.'
"Then Tony [La Russa, manager] hugged me in the runway and told me to go see Sandy [Alderson, A's general manager]," said Canseco, who appeared calm.
"Right now, I think I'm in kind of a dream state," said Canseco, 28. "I'm kind of shocked. I don't think it will hit me until I sit down with my wife later."
Although it was known that the A's were looking to bolster their pitching staff for the playoffs, few anticipated a trade of this magnitude. The A's are 79-52 and 6 1/2 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the American League West, but they apparently were queasy about their pitching staff for postseason play.
"With [Bob] Welch out, we're left with [Mike] Moore and [Dave] Stewart," said Bill Rigney, former big-league manager who serves as an adviser for the A's.
Still, the deal may raise more questions than it answers. Canseco -- a controversial figure who has drawn headlines for his high-speed driving and public disputes with his wife -- has three years left on a contract that pays him less than the $5 million Sierra was awarded in arbitration last winter. Sierra and Russell are eligible to become free agents after this season, so there's no guarantee the A's can retain them. In addition, Sierra is sidelined with chickenpox and is likely to be out for two more weeks.
Alderson said no attempt was made to secure contracts with Sierra and Russell before the trade was completed -- and that there will be no negotiations until after the season.
"We'll just toss them in with our baker's dozen and deal with it when we can," said Alderson. "It would be a breach of faith with our other players to do anything now."
There is speculation that the A's, who have said they must reduce their payroll, are worried only about trying to win this season and aren't concerned about their chances of being able to sign Sierra or Russell.
"It was a difficult trade to make in many respects," said Alderson. "But we felt very strongly that we needed to improve our club substantially.
"Obviously, we feel we have the best closer in baseball [Dennis ** Eckersley]," Alderson added, "and we didn't get Russell to take his place."
Canseco is hitting .246 with 22 home runs and 72 runs batted in, and Sierra had a .278 average with 14 homers and 70 RBI.
From the A's standpoint, Witt is the key figure for the immediate future, giving La Russa a needed added starter.
Rangers manager Toby Harrah, meanwhile, said he was pleased by the deal.
"The Oakland A's are getting three fine ballplayers," Harrah said. "The Texas Rangers are getting an impact player. He can do it all.
"I've known Bobby Witt a long time. Jeff Russell has been a great pitcher for this team for many years. Ruben Sierra has put up Hall of Fame numbers.
"But what you're getting is a great player like Jose Canseco who can do everything. I put him in the same category as Reggie Jackson. People love to come out and see him and the fans of the Texas Rangers are going to love to come out and see him."
Witt said he suspected that he might be traded, but Russell, who leads the Rangers with 28 saves, said he was stunned.
"I'm shocked," Russell said. "I felt pretty secure. I'm optimistic. They've got a good ballclub over there. I'm pretty psyched about "It still hasn't sunk in. My heart is beating. The ballclub has got to do what it has to do. I feel bad about leaving. I've been here seven years."
Russell said he did not anticipate a problem fitting into the Oakland bullpen.
"Eck is older than I am, so maybe he might need a little rest," Russell said. "It's going to strengthen the bullpen. I'm excited about going over to Oakland and being a part of a first-place team."