White Sox's Alvarez pulled no disappearing act after Rangers trade

BASBEALL

October 17, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

TORONTO -- Watching Wilson Alvarez during the American League Championship Series, or almost any time during the regular season, had to be particularly painful for Texas Rangers general manager Tom Grieve.

For other GMs it had to be a reminder of the dangers of late-season "hired gun" trades. Invariably they involve little-known minor-leaguers, some who fade away without seeing the light of the major leagues -- and others who don't.

Alvarez, who made one start for the Rangers as a 19-year-old in 1989, is one of those who didn't disappear. The White Sox left-hander looms as one of the brightest young pitchers in the AL.

But when he was traded to the White Sox, four days after failing to retire a batter or impress his manager (Bobby Valentine), Alvarez was considered more than expendable. The Rangers said they had six left-handed pitchers who ranked ahead of Alvarez.

One of them, Joe Eischen, was traded to Montreal for (gulp) Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd. Another was Brian Bohanon, who is now trying to make his mark with the Rangers.

What makes the Alvarez trade intriguing, besides the Rangers constant need for pitching, is that he wasn't a principal in the deal. Trying to overtake the Oakland A's, the Rangers wanted a proven left-handed hitter and zeroed in on Harold Baines, who is now with Baltimore.

The White Sox had a need for an infielder and wanted Scott Fletcher in addition to outfielder Sammy Sosa, who was the prize prospect in the trade. Alvarez became the clincher, the player who convinced the White Sox to close the deal.

There's no doubt Baines was a quality hitter, but he wasn't enough to put the Rangers over the top. Interestingly, one year and a month later he was traded to the A's, the team the Rangers still were trying to catch, for pitching prospects Scott Chiamparino and Joe Bitker.

Incidentally, the GM who made that trade for the White Sox (Larry Himes), last year sent George Bell to the White Sox for Sosa, who only hit 30 home runs for the Cubs this season.

The trade by the Rangers turned out to be a bad gamble, though it took a few years to gauge. And even the "hired gun" trades that provide an instant return sometimes require a hefty price.

Obtaining Doyle Alexander in 1987 helped the Detroit Tigers win a division title, but no more. Today the organization weighs that gain against the stability John Smoltz, who went to the Braves for Alexander, could have provided to a pitching staff that has struggled since. For the Braves, that trade represented a delayed payment -- the year before they had obtained Alexander from the Blue Jays for Duane Ward.

David Cone helped the Blue Jays win their first World Series title last year, and the rental cost for two months (Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson) was expensive, but affordable.

In 1988, the Tigers took the last 13 months of Fred Lynn's contract from the Orioles. The price, considered cheap at the time, was Double-A catcher Chris Hoiles. That same year the Red Sox gave up Curt Schilling and Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker. The Red Sox trade was worth making, because they won the division, but the Tigers deal wasn't.

The Orioles went for left-hander Craig Lefferts a year ago and gave up Ricky Gutierrez -- their second best shortstop prospect (behind Manny Alexander) -- but good enough to play regularly for the San Diego Padres this year.

This year the Blue Jays opted for Rickey Henderson when they couldn't get the pitcher they needed. In return the A's got right-hander Steve Karsay, who made his major- league debut late in the season.

Toronto general manager Pat Gillick, who is aggressive in these matters, has admitted in retrospect that he wouldn't make the deal again. When presented with the opportunity, however, Gillick didn't want to risk Henderson going to either the Yankees or Orioles, who both reportedly made offers.

In the heat of a pennant race, the appeal of adding a Henderson, Cone, Fred McGriff, et al, is tempting, especially to those unaware of the minor- league talent involved. The "hired guns" almost always are players about to become free agents or ones with exorbitant contracts.

The temptation for a quick fix is often too much to resist. But there are no guarantees, which is what makes the "hired gun" approach a real crap shoot.

Minding the pitching

Speaking of Alvarez, the person who could benefit from his late-season success the most is Rick Peterson. Rick who?

Peterson was the pitching coach for the White Sox Triple-A Nashville farm team last year. That's where the White Sox sent Alvarez for a 10-day cram course two months ago.

The talented left-hander went to the minors a wild man and came back composed, with all his pitches under control. It isn't the first time Peterson has put Alvarez on track.

"Wilson's confidence was bad when he went down," White Sox reliever Roberto Hernandez said. "The coach down there [Peterson] works on your mind. He really likes to get into your head. That's all he did with Wilson -- work on his confidence."

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