Cards' Jocketty not afraid to trade value to get value

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

March 04, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - It isn't easy to trade for quality pitching, but it isn't impossible, either.

The St. Louis Cardinals proved that in December when they acquired starting pitcher Dustin Hermanson and left-handed reliever Steve Kline from the Montreal Expos for highly regarded third baseman Fernando Tatis and pitching prospect Britt Reames.

Everybody liked Hermanson, a slightly sub-.500 pitcher who figured to step up with a good team. The Orioles made a run at him. So did the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds and probably a dozen other teams that hoped to put together a package of players appealing to the constantly rebuilding Expos.

Kline was no slouch, either, a solid reliever who had a 3.50 ERA in 83 appearances last year.

So, who should be surprised that Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was able to shore up his rotation and his bullpen in one fell swoop? He's been pushing all the right buttons for a couple of years now and may have ensured that the Cardinals are positioned well to run away with the National League Central for the second year in a row.

Remember, it was his bold stroke last spring - trading front-line starter Kent Bottenfield and promising second baseman Adam Kennedy to the Anaheim Angels for slugger Jim Edmonds - that propelled the Cardinals into the playoffs. The Hermanson/Kline deal didn't make the same kind of headlines, but it could turn out to be just as important.

Jocketty obviously knows the secret to completing an impact trade: You've got to give up something to get something. It looked like a gamble when he gave up a big winner (Bottenfield) and a prime infield prospect (Kennedy) last spring, but he ended up with one of the leading candidates for last year's National League MVP trophy.

This time, he gave up a potentially outstanding third baseman, though Tatis was coming off an injury-scarred season in which he allowed himself to fall out of shape. Reames also is a valuable young player who posted a 2-1 record and a 2.88 ERA in eight games - seven of them starts.

Hermanson, who pitched three scoreless innings in the exhibition opener against the Orioles on Friday, steps into the void left by the departure of veteran right-hander Pat Hentgen, who became a free agent and signed a two-year contract with the Orioles. Hermanson likely will end up in the No. 3 slot in the Cardinals' rotation, behind Darryl Kile and Andy Benes.

He admits that his parting with the Expos was painful, but clearly looks forward to his first real opportunity to pitch in a pennant race.

"It was tough at first," Hermanson said, "but on the other hand, I felt I had given everything I had to the Expos. To finally come to a team with a chance to make the playoffs is great. You can ask any of those guys [Expos players]. I just want to win."

During his four years in Montreal, Hermanson was four games under .500 for a team that was a combined 92 games under .500, but he still has to prove that he can be a consistent winner. His numbers last year (12-14, 4.77 ERA) weren't particularly impressive, but he pitched under some unusual circumstances - most notably as a substitute closer when Ugueth Urbina was injured.

The Cardinals are hoping that consistent work, improved offensive support and the tutelage of highly respected pitching coach Dave Duncan will help Hermanson come into his own as a marquee starting pitcher.

"I saw a lot of games last year that I thought I should have won," Hermanson said. "I don't think that there is anywhere to go but up."

Orioles West

Well, at least one team considers the Orioles a good source of pitching. The Los Angeles Dodgers have six former Orioles pitchers in camp, and as many as four of them could make the 25-man major-league roster.

Staff ace Kevin Brown spent one season with the Orioles, and both Gregg Olson and Jesse Orosco were front-line relievers in Baltimore. The Dodgers also are looking at veterans Mike Fetters and Al Reyes and minor-league journeyman Doug Linton.

Olson is coming off an elbow problem similar to the one that led to his departure from Baltimore after the 1993 season, but he has been throwing well enough to merit consideration as a middle reliever. Orosco is coming off elbow surgery but seems confident that he can add at least one more season to his long career.

"I'm throwing harder than I have the past two or three years," said Orosco, who set the major-league record for career relief appearances in his final Orioles season in 1999.

Reboulet surfaces

Former Orioles utility infielder Jeff Reboulet also is in camp for the Dodgers, apparently as insurance against the possibility that third baseman Adrian Beltre will not be ready to start the season.

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