BOSTON - The Cleveland Indians and New York Mets shook up a slow-moving winter meetings early yesterday by completing an eight-player trade that featured All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar as its headliner.
Apparently in a cost-cutting mode after reaching the fifth game of the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, the Indians sent Alomar and his $8 million salary along with left-hander Mike Bacsik and outfielder Danny Peoples to the Mets for outfielders Matt Lawton and Alex Escobar, right-hander Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named.
Alomar, a three-time All-Star with the Orioles from 1996 to 1998, leaves the American League after a season in which he hit .336, scored 113 runs, hit 20 home runs and produced 100 RBIs. His 66 extra-base hits helped account for a .541 slugging percentage.
"I'm disappointed," Alomar said. "I didn't think anything was going to happen. I had met with the organization and they had told me nothing was going to happen. I just woke up when they called. I didn't know what to say."
Alomar is set to earn $8 million next season, and his contract includes an $8 million club option for 2003.
The Indians amassed a payroll of $102.5 million last season - a figure the club hopes to reduce to about $80 million next season. Mark Shapiro's task in taking over as Indians general manager two months ago was to make the team younger and its payroll less wieldy.
"Any time you trade away a Hall of Fame talent, it's something you don't do lightly," Shapiro said. "But in the end, even for a player of Robby's abilities, it was the feeling of our group that the combination of players was compelling."
For the Mets, the trade means the transfer of second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo to third base and the installation of Alomar and Rey Ordonez as one of the National League's most exciting double-play combinations. Shapiro conceded trading Alomar will likely bring a negative reaction from a fan base denied a postseason only once since 1994.
The Indians already have refused arbitration to free-agent outfielder Kenny Lofton and are virtually certain to lose right fielder Juan Gonzalez, one of the market's most prolific hitters. The Orioles signed a third Indians free-agent outfielder, Marty Cordova, earlier this month to a three-year, $9.1 million deal.
Shapiro projected Lawton, an All-Star with Minnesota in 2000, as the team's everyday right fielder while Escobar, 23, considered the Mets' top prospect, will likely take over center field from Milton Bradley.
The Indians signed left fielder Brady Anderson last week after his release from the Orioles.
Mets general manager Steve Phillips and Shapiro spoke about the deal at least every other day for the past month.
Alomar's last impression in Cleveland was not a positive one. He failed to run out a pair of double-play grounders in the Indians' Game 5 loss to Seattle and had heard suggestions he was a less-than-positive clubhouse influence.
"I don't buy into that," Alomar said. "They knew they were going to do something. Maybe they were trying to make the fans think negatively of me."
NOTES: The Cincinnati Reds finally traded outfielder-first baseman Dmitri Young as the Detroit Tigers obtained the switch-hitter for outfielder Juan Encarnacion and reliever Luis Pineda. Young, 28, was nearly traded to the Orioles earlier this month until majority owner Peter Angelos vetoed including pitcher Sidney Ponson in the deal. Young has hit at least .300 the past four seasons. Young will likely replace Tony Clark as Tigers first baseman. The Boston Red Sox earlier claimed Clark on waivers. ... The San Diego Padres and Seattle completed a six-player trade sending catcher Ben Davis, infielder Alex Arias and rookie right-hander Wascar Serrano to the Mariners for catcher Tom Lampkin, right-hander Brett Tomko, infield prospect Ramon Vazquez and cash. ... The Chicago Cubs and Florida Marlins swapped pitchers with Jesus Sanchez going to the Cubs in return for left-handed pitching prospect Nate Teut.
The Texas Rangers signed free-agent middle reliever Jay Powell to a three-year, $9 million contract as general manager John Hart continues to rebuild the Rangers' pitching staff bullpen-first. Powell, 29, made 74 appearances for the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies last season. The Rangers already had signed another free-agent middle reliever, Todd Van Poppel, to a three-year, $7.5 million deal. ... The Milwaukee Brewers signed free-agent catcher Raul Casanova to a one-year contract. ... Left in suspended animation by the threat of contraction, the Montreal Expos' contingent didn't arrive at the meetings until yesterday. The traveling party consisted of assistant general manager Larry Beinfest and public relations director P.J. Loyello, who made a six-hour drive from Montreal.