NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Baseball's winter meetings haven't generated a great deal of excitement, but the annual trading convention finally produced a flurry of transactions yesterday.
Perhaps the most dynamic announcement came from the San Francisco Giants, who signed free-agent infielder Edgardo Alfonzo to a four-year contract believed to be worth $26 million.
Though Alfonzo could replace either departed third baseman David Bell or free-agent second baseman Jeff Kent, the Giants appear likely to back away from negotiations toward a multi-year contract with Kent and keep him only if he agrees to accept a one-year deal through salary arbitration.
"It diminishes the chances [of Kent's returning]," said Giants general manager Brian Sabean. "I'm not going to sit here and say it's more probable now. Anything's possible, but I'd guess it got less probable."
The Giants earlier signed infielder Ray Durham to a multi-year contract, so they have filled the void left by Bell and - probably - Kent. Sabean and new manager Felipe Alou sidestepped questions about which position Alfonso would play.
"I'm open-minded and he's open-minded," Alou said. "I asked him whether he was a better second baseman or third baseman, and he said he didn't know. I think that's a good sign."
The signing temporarily awakened a largely dormant free-agent market soon after four teams combined to pull off the first deal of the weekend, though it involved only three named players.
The Cincinnati Reds sent starting pitcher Elmer Dessens to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a chain-reaction trade that landed Diamondbacks first baseman Erubiel Durazo in the Oakland Athletics lineup, sent an unnamed player from the A's to the Toronto Blue Jays and sent 22-year-old infielder Felipe Lopez from the Blue Jays to the Reds.
Speculation persists that the New York Yankees will soon deal four players - Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, Orlando Hernandez and a prospect - to the Montreal Expos for 20-game winner Bartolo Colon, but late last night the four-way deal involving Durazo, Dessens and Lopez remained the trading highlight of the meetings.
Dessens was 7-8 with a 3.03 ERA in 30 starts for the Reds last year.
Durazo struggled through a wrist injury but hit 16 home runs and had 48 RBIs in just 76 games for the Diamondbacks.
"It was no secret that we came here to add starting pitching," said Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. "Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling are a pretty good top two, but our interest in Elmer Dessens has been long-standing. We see him as a solid No. 3 starter. He creates a lot of flexibility for us in our rotation and bullpen."
Much has been made of the economic constraints that are making it difficult to complete deals and sign free agents, but Reds GM Jim Bowden insisted his team did not make the trade solely to cut payroll.
"This trade, for our purposes, was not just a financial deal," he said. "It was a baseball deal for us. We feel that we got a high-ceiling middle infielder [Lopez] who could have a 20-25 home run upside."
Lopez batted .227 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 85 games for the Blue Jays. He is a decent prospect, but it also didn't hurt that he is a low-salary player with two years to go before he is eligible for salary arbitration.
Durazo fell out of favor with the Diamondbacks when he balked at moving to the outfield after the injury that sidelined Luis Gonzalez. He'll get a fresh start with the A's, who feel he'll beef up their already talented offensive lineup.
Immediately after the deal was announced, new Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Phillies GM Ed Wade took over the podium to announce the Sox had acquired veteran first baseman/outfielder Jeremy Giambi for right-handed pitching prospect Josh Hancock.
The deals kept coming throughout the evening. The St. Louis Cardinals added some pitching depth with the acquisition of veteran right-hander Brett Tomko from the San Diego Padres for right-hander Luther Hackman and a player to be named.
The Cardinals already had signed veteran free-agent starter Chris Carpenter to a one-year contract on Friday, but he's rehabbing an arm injury and is not expected to pitch until midseason.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays moved to upgrade their middle-infield defense with a deal that brought them veteran shortstop Rey Ordonez and cash from the New York Mets for two players to be named.
Ordonez batted .254 with one home run and 42 RBIs in 144 games last year. He committed 19 errors - his highest total since his rookie year with the Mets in 1996- but Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar said the deal improved the club up the middle and added needed experience to a developing club.