Braves make a steal, getting McGriff without parting with top young stars BASEBALL

July 19, 1993|By Charles Odum | Charles Odum,Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTA -- They call Fred McGriff the "Crime Dog."

After acquiring McGriff from the San Diego Padres Sunday without parting with any major leaguers or top minor-league talent, Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz may be deserving of his own label of larceny.

The Braves sent three minor-league players to the Padres: Triple-A Richmond outfielder Melvin Nieves and pitcher Donnie Elliott and Single-A Durham outfielder Vince Moore. Schuerholz said the Braves also received an unspecified amount of money in the deal.

McGriff, who has had back-to-back 100-RBI seasons with the Padres, has a .275 batting average this season with 18 homers and 46 RBI.

"It is obvious for all of us that our offense needs some reviving," Schuerholz said. "We think he can help us do that."

McGriff, a native of Tampa, Fla., was given permission by the Braves to be in Tampa today and report to the Braves for tomorrow night's game against St. Louis. McGriff is recovering from a rib-cage injury and should be ready to play tomorrow night.

"No question it's good not to have to face [Tom] Glavine and [Steve] Avery and those guys," McGriff said of the Atlanta starting pitchers. "We're on the same side now."

Nieves, Elliott and Moore are all strong prospects but not considered top players in the Braves' talent-rich farm system. Nieves was the key player in the package for the Padres, but he is rated behind fellow Richmond outfielders Tony Tarasco and Mike Kelly.

McGriff, a 29-year-old first baseman, has hit a major-league-leading 171 home runs the last five years. He has been linked with the Braves in trade rumors for weeks.

What was not rumored was the ability of Schuerholz to acquire McGriff without giving up any of his top three Richmond prospects: first baseman Ryan Klesko, catcher Javy Lopez or shortstop Chipper Jones.

"We were negotiating what we had to give up," said Schuerholz, who added that Klesko "briefly" was included in the lengthy talks.

With McGriff now a fixture at first base, Klesko will be given an opportunity to play left field in Richmond.

"It was important for us to keep Ryan in the organization," Schuerholz said. "That was one of the reasons it took as long as it did."

Said San Diego general manager Randy Smith: "We asked for the world, and even though that's not realistic, you hold to your guns. . . . Quite frankly, all along the guy we wanted was Melvin Nieves."

With the Padres looking to unload McGriff's $4.5 million salary, the Braves were a perfect fit. The Braves' first-base platoon of Sid Bream (.239, eight homers, 27 RBI) and Brian Hunter (.132, zero home runs and eight RBI) had floundered this year.

Schuerholz said the Braves will wait until tomorrow to clear a roster spot for McGriff. The Braves will attempt to trade Bream or Hunter. Barring a trade, Hunter likely will be shipped to Richmond and Bream will be used in Atlanta as a left-handed pinch hitter.

McGriff is signed through 1994 with an option year for 1995. The Braves will be responsible for $1.69 million of his $4.5 million 1993 contract. McGriff's contract stipulates that he can demand a trade after this season.

"Probably at the end of the year I'll have to really sit down and weigh everything and decide what's best," McGriff said.

Elliott, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, was acquired from Philadelphia last season in the trade that sent pitcher Ben Rivera to the Phillies. Elliott, 24, was 8-5 with a 4.72 ERA in Richmond this year.

Nieves, 22, enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Braves' farm system last year, beginning the season in Single-A Durham, N.C., moving to Greenville and playing in 12 games in Atlanta in September. Nieves, a switch-hitter, was batting .278 in Richmond this season with 10 homers and 36 RBI.

Moore, 21, hit only .227 in Single-A Macon, Ga., last season, but paced the Durham team this season with 14 homers, 64 RBI and 19 stolen bases while hitting .292.

Nieves and Elliott will be assigned to the Padres' Triple-A team in Las Vegas. Moore will report to Single-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.).

The Padres called up first baseman Guillermo Velasquez from Las Vegas to fill McGriff's roster spot.

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