Gonzalez traded

Griffey will be

Tigers send 6 to Texas

Seattle honors request

November 03, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The World Series has been over for a week, but baseball still is hogging the headlines.

Maybe today's should be: "Have MVP trophy, will travel."

The Texas Rangers pulled off a blockbuster deal last night, trading two-time American League Most Valuable Player Juan Gonzalez to the Detroit Tigers in a nine-player deal that brought pitcher Justin Thompson, top outfield prospect Gabe Kapler and four other players to the defending American League West champions.

If that wasn't enough off-season news for one day, the Seattle Mariners announced that they would honor a request by superstar (and 1997 MVP) Ken Griffey to trade him before the start of the 2000 season.

The Rangers' deal was a stunner. Gonzalez has led the team to three playoff appearances in the last four years, but the club's explosive offensive lineup clearly was dominated by the balanced New York Yankees pitching staff in the Division Series each time.

The deal adds much-needed depth to the Rangers' pitching staff and puts a huge star in the middle of the Tigers' lineup for their inaugural season in the team's new downtown ballpark.

Gonzalez was traded along with reliever Danny Patterson and former Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun for Thompson, Kapler, pitchers Alan Webb and Francisco Cordero, catcher Bill Haselman and infielder Frank Catalanotto.

"I guess it heated up over the last couple of days," Rangers general manager Doug Melvin said at an evening news conference in Arlington, Texas. "We had talked about it at length. [Detroit general manager] Randy Smith has been on vacation in Hawaii, so it was a long-distance call trying to get the deal done."

Rangers owner Tom Hicks had promised last spring that there would be changes if the club did not improve on its three-games-and-out performance in the 1998 postseason, leading to speculation that Melvin and manager Johnny Oates might be on the hot seat if Texas did not reach the American League Championship Series.

But both were signed to contract extensions before the Rangers were swept again by the Yankees in the Division Series last month.

That shifted the focus to the deep offensive lineup, which scored nearly six runs per game and led both leagues with a combined .293 batting average.

Gonzalez ranked among the league's top 10 in all three Triple Crown categories with a .326 batting average, 39 homers and 128 RBI. But he was nearing the end of his contract and figured to be very expensive to re-sign.

The Tigers get him for the option year of that contract for a salary of $7.5 million, but risk losing him after the 2000 season if they do not sign him to a rich, multi-year extension.

"If you're going to deal with premier players, there's always a chance they'll walk," said Smith, "but you have to dare to be good.

"It's very difficult to entice a free agent to come to a city that hasn't won recently. Most players have to experience Detroit to see how good it is to play here."

In exchange, the Rangers bolstered their starting rotation in the face of the possible loss of free-agent starter Aaron Sele, replaced Gonzalez with one of the game's top offensive prospects and added depth in several other areas.

Thompson was 9-11 with a 5.11 ERA last year before undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery in August, so he comes with some physical questions, but he was talented enough to make the American League All-Star team in his first full season in 1997.

"Thompson has been highly regarded, and we feel that with him and Cordero coming to our pitching staff that we've improved our ballclub," Melvin explained.

The Mariners can expect to get an even bigger package for Griffey, who met with club chairman Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and new GM Pat Gillick on Monday and expressed his desire to be traded to a team that plays closer to his Orlando, Fla., home.

There has been speculation for months that Griffey would leave the club, if not in trade this winter, then as a free agent when his contract expires at the end of the season.

The team that seems to be positioned best to acquire him is the Atlanta Braves, who have pitching depth to spare and the resources to sign him to a megadeal in excess of the eight-year, $135 million offer the Mariners reportedly made to him in July.

Griffey, 29, has averaged 53 homers over the past three seasons and -- with 398 career homers -- is more than halfway to Hank Aaron's all-time career home run record (755).

"This has been an extremely difficult decision for me," Griffey said in a joint statement he released with the team. "Mariners fans throughout the Pacific Northwest have been very loyal and devoted to me. I will truly miss them."

Griffey, who retains veto power over his destination, is believed to favor Atlanta, Cincinnati and Houston. Cincinnati is his hometown and the other two clubs train each spring in the Orlando area.

"This is not a decision I can quarrel with or argue with. It's only a decision that I can respect," said Lincoln.

"The Mariners have done everything humanly possible to keep Ken Griffey Jr. a Seattle Mariner. While we are disappointed, we deeply respect Ken's decision to put his family ahead of everything else."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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