HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — A baseball scout walked up to Jack McKeon Thursday to ask, "What's up?" And McKeon told him about Shawn Abner and Kevin Mitchell and Stan Jefferson, three youngsters that happened to belong to the New York Mets.
"You can't get them all at once, can you?" said the scout.
"I can," McKeon said.
"Then, do it!" said the scout.
And he did. McKeon had to trade away Kevin McReynolds, his best power hitter, to do so, but he has suddenly created an entirely new team for himself. The 1986 team was slow, but the 1987 team--to quote new manager Larry Bowa--"will go for it."
The Padres sent McReynolds, left-handed reliever Gene Walter and minor leaguer Adam Ging to the Mets for outfielders Abner and Jefferson, infielder/outfielder Mitchell and minor league pitchers Kevin Armstrong and Kevin Brown.
Unofficially, the trade was this: The Padres couldn't get third baseman Brook Jacoby from the Indians, couldn't get third baseman Gary Gaetti from the Twins, couldn't get third baseman Danny Tartabull from Seattle. So, if they were ever going to find a third baseman, they'd have to trade McReynolds, who was coveted by so many teams.
The Mets, especially Mets Manager Davey Johnson, loved McReynolds. They had won last year's world championship with pitching and defense, but if they wanted to do the unthinkable--repeat--they needed more offense. So, for McReynolds, the Mets offered Mitchell, a third baseman among other things.
Yet, the Padres wanted so much more. They wanted Jefferson, a center fielder with great defensive skills who also stole 67 bases one year in college. The Mets agreed to give him away, what with the development of Len Dykstra. But the Padres also wanted two very good pitchers--lefty Randy Meyers and right-handed Rick Aguilera.
The Mets said no.
Negotiations dragged, lagged and then suddenly picked up when McKeon learned that Abner--the No. 1 player picked in the 1984 summer free agent draft--might be available. But if the Mets were to trade him, they wanted Walter. They got him.
Still, McKeon wanted pitching in return and got Armstrong--17-5 last year at Class A Columbia (S.C.)--and Brown, a Double-A left-hander.
To complete the deal, McKeon threw in Ging, 22, who hit .264 at Class A Reno last year.
And as soon as this was finalized, the Mets proclaimed that McReynolds would be in left field on opening day and batting anywhere from third to sixth in the order. And Walter, they said, would be the second lefty in the bullpen behind Jesse Orosco.
"The East (Division of the National League) I'm sure is mad at Jack McKeon," said Bowa, who now couldn't think of an easy out in the Met batting order.
Of the McReynolds' acquisition, Met Manager Johnson said, "I would hope our No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 is the best in baseball." That's Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry and McReynolds.
The Padres were even more specific about their new players. Both McKeon and Bowa expected Jefferson, a 24-year-old switch-hitter, to start in centerfield, and Mitchell, who hit .277 with 12 home runs in 108 games with the Mets last year, would start at third. And Abner, only a 20-year-old and called "the second coming of McReynolds" by Bowa, would be given every opportunity to start in left field.
Bowa named his key players. At first base, it'd be either Steve Garvey, John Kruk or Carmelo Martinez; at second base, it'd be either Tim Flannery or Joey Cora or Randy Ready; at shortstop, it'd be Garry Templeton; at third, it'd be Mitchell; at catcher, it'd be Benito Santiago; in left, it'd be Kruk or Abner; in center, it'd be Jefferson; in right, it'd be Tony Gwynn.
"I think we've instantly made San Diego a contender for '87," the Mets' Johnson said.
But where is the power, the home run production?
"Yeah, we had the power last year," McKeon said, "and we finished last."
McKeon said he thinks Mitchell can hit anywhere from 15 to 20 home runs, and if he can, a worry will be over. Mitchell said Thursday he's more of a line drive hitter. Of home runs, he said, "We'll see."
And Mitchell had mixed emotions Thursday. He said the Mets were like a family to him. Here was a kid who grew up in tough Southeast San Diego. He barely attended high school for two years and didn't come close to graduating. He was in a street gang. His brother was killed at a gang party.
But the Mets took him away from all that. They discovered him at a tryout in Grossmont, and he came up through the minors as a third baseman. As a rookie in 1986, he started at five different positions (third, short, first, left field and right field), and he was third in the balloting for Rookie-of-the-Year.
He's quite a personality, too. During fielding practice, he wears a portable stereo and earphones. He bought a Mercedes his rookie year, but wrecked it after Game 1 of the World Series. He lifted weights so often last season that the Mets told him he was too muscle-bound.