Mets' pitch catches Piazza New York adds punch, pizazz to lineup

Fla. gets three top prospects

May 23, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Catcher Mike Piazza, who had been exiled to Florida while 10 more solvent franchises fought to acquire him, joined his third team in a little more than a week yesterday when the salary-slashing Marlins dealt the five-time All-Star to the New York Mets for three top minor-leaguers.

Piazza, who has spectacular offensive statistics in seven big-league seasons, has been traded from Los Angeles to Florida to New York in just eight days in two deals that reflect baseball's chaotic economics as much as the needs of the teams involved.

The Mets, a distant second to the scorching Yankees in the race for the hearts and dollars of New York's baseball fans, needed a gate attraction nearly as much as a big bat at the heart of their lineup.

And after their trades with the Dodgers and Mets, the Marlins, in the process of being sold and eviscerated by H. Wayne Huizenga, have sliced their payroll from $53 million to $16 million and torn apart a team that won a World Series last October.

"Baseball is going through some changes," said Piazza, who will join the Mets today but still appeared stunned by the blockbuster trade that sent him from Southern California a week ago. "But I'm a positive thinker. For me the glass is always half-full and I'm confident things will work out for the better."

With Mets catcher Todd Hundley on the disabled list until late June or July after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery, Piazza should fit nicely into a lineup currently last in the National League in runs. What will happen when Hundley returns remains uncertain.

Should New York sign Piazza, a free agent after this season who had been seeking a seven-year, $100 million deal from Los Angeles, it could move him or Hundley to another position or trade Hundley.

"We're both catchers," said Hundley, a two-time All-Star. "And we're both competitive."

Piazza, 29, is hitting .281 with nine homers and 35 RBIs. His career statistics (a .331 batting average with 177 home runs and 568 RBIs) put him on a path to Cooperstown.

In the final year of a two-year, $15 million contract, he began the season slowly and even was booed by the normally placid L.A. fans after contract talks with the Dodgers broke off. Finally, the Dodgers, now owned by Rupert Murdoch, decided to unload him when the Marlins put together a star-studded package that included Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla and catcher Charles Johnson.

The Marlins will get outfielder Preston Wilson and highly rated pitching prospect Ed Yarnall from New York. The player to be named is expected to be pitcher Geoff Goetz.

Wilson is the stepson of Mookie Wilson, a former Mets star and now the team's first base coach. Yarnall, 22, is a left-hander with a 7-0 record and an 0.39 ERA at Double-A Binghamton. Goetz, a 19-year-old left-hander, was the sixth player picked overall in the 1997 draft.

"This town is ready and waiting for Mike," Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon said. "They love him already. Mike Piazza is the kind of player, like Willie Mays, like Mickey Mantle, the kind of player that will take to this town. He's a New York kind of guy."

Piazza's travels

Mike Piazza was traded for the second time in eight days yesterday, going to the New York Mets from the Florida Marlins, who had acquired the All-Star catcher from the Los Angeles Dodgers last Friday.

Piazza said he plans to join the Mets at Shea Stadium today for their game against Brewers. When the series ends Monday, he'll fly back to Miami for a Mets-Marlins series that begins Tuesday.

"I guess I'll just pack a weekend bag for New York," Piazza said yesterday.

Here's a look at his whirlwind week and a day:

Friday, May 15: Dealt along with Todd Zeile to Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, Charles Johnson and Manuel Barrios.

Saturday: Joins Marlins in St. Louis; drives in run as pinch hitter with sacrifice fly in seventh inning of 5-4 loss.

Sunday: Makes first Marlins start; goes 1-for-5 with RBI single in 13-4 loss at St. Louis.

Monday: Goes 2-for-5, drives in two runs with triple in 7-3 win at St. Louis.

Wednesday: Makes Marlins home debut in Miami; goes 1-for-4 in 7-3 loss to Diamondbacks.

Thursday: Goes 1-for-4 with RBI; allows insurance run to score on throwing error in seventh inning of 6-4 loss to Diamondbacks.

Friday: Traded to Mets for outfielder Preston Wilson and minor-league pitchers Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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