DALLAS — Baseball's winter meetings officially open today. No matter what ensues, the Angels can say they did more than swap a few tall tales in Texas.
Facing a potential crisis in their starting rotation, the Angels traded expendable center fielder Gary Pettis to the Detroit Tigers for veteran pitcher Dan Petry Saturday night.
"He's in our starting rotation until he proves he can't start," Executive Vice President Mike Port said of Petry, a 29-year-old right-hander who won 15 or more games from 1982 through 1985, then had bone chips removed from his elbow on June 10, 1986.
He was 5-10 that season and 9-7 with a 5.61 earned-run average in 1987, when he made 21 starts and 9 appearances out of the bullpen.
"He was on and off last season," Port acknowledged, "but the way he finished indicated that his arm was sound. He's pitched too many innings beyond his surgery for that to be a factor still. I see no reason why he can't be the way he was before the surgery."
Wishful thinking? Port can be excused if that's the case.
The release of Don Sutton, the continuing inability to re-sign free agent Mike Witt (who is known to be talking with the Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, among others) and the lingering uncertainty regarding Kirk McCaskill's arm problems had left the Angels with a possible rotation of . . . well, Willie Fraser.
"I don't want to make it sound like we're the '27 Yankees, but you go around our lineup, position by position, and I think you come away with a very favorable impression," Port said. "What we need is pitching and pitching depth. I hope to make two other trades involving pitchers before these meetings end."
Having dealt Pettis, however, the Angels seem limited in what they can offer.
There is unproven shortstop Gus Polidor and, possibly, 37-year-old Brian Downing, who has been reduced to platooning with Bill Buckner as the designated hitter now that the outfield has Johnny Ray in left, Devon White in center and Chili Davis in right.
Among the potential options are said to be these:
The San Francisco Giants are looking for a quality utility player and may be inclined to take Polidor in exchange for Kelly Downs; the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates are both interested in a shortstop and may be tempted by Polidor in exchange for Bob Knepper or Mike Bielecki; the Chicago White Sox, having already traded Richard Dotson, would also like to unload Floyd Bannister's salary.
Jack Morris, Danny Darwin, Dave Righetti, Dave Smith and Charlie Leibrandt are all available via free agency, but Port said he is concerned about the expenditure of draft choices as compensation, having already lost a second-round pick in next year's amateur draft through the signing of Davis.
"I don't want to keep eating our young," he said.
The signing of Davis assured Pettis' departure, though the two-time Gold Glove winner wrote his own ticket last year when he batted .208 and struck out 124 times in 394 at-bats.
His continuing inability to become a "contact hitter" frustrated the club and resulted in an August trip to the minors.
"Gary Pettis has outstanding ability, but we couldn't find a way to get it out," Port said. "I think he will be a better player in Detroit, just as Dan Petry will be a better pitcher for us."
Pettis is expected to start for the Tigers, with Chet Lemon moving to right and Kirk Gibson playing left.
Responding to the trade, Pettis said he was excited to be joining a championship team and added: "Taking everything into consideration, a new start is very welcome." He said that a ligament injury in his left hand, ultimately resulting in surgery in October, "kept me from doing what I'm capable of doing (this year). In retrospect, I wish it had been resolved sooner."
There had been speculation that the Tigers weren't going to offer Petry a contract, meaning he could have been signed as an unrestricted free agent after Dec. 20 and take a cut of more than 20% of last season's $950,00 salary. The Angels can cut him to only $780,000, but Port said that he wouldn't have been alone in vying for Petry's services as a free agent and didn't want to take that risk, considering the team's pitching needs.
A product of Placentia's El Dorado High School, Petry said he had once dreamed of pitching for the Angels. He loves to pitch in Anaheim Stadium but had recently moved to Detroit from Yorba Linda.
He said that being traded to the Angels in the wake of having put that possibility out of his mind came as a shock, but that in light of his uncertain role and future with the Tigers: "I think I needed it mentally and confidence-wise."
"I have to say I'm looking forward to this. I know that stadium inside and out," Petry said from Detroit. "It's just that, as a sentimentalist, it's going to be difficult leaving the Tigers."