DALLAS — Will the Angels and Dodgers do anything more than swap tall tales this week in Texas?
Are they prepared to make the seemingly required player trades during the winter baseball meetings that open here today?
Fred Claire, executive vice president of the Dodgers, and Mike Port, his Angel counterpart, both used the same terminology: Hopeful, but not optimistic. They acknowledged that hopeful might even be something of an embellishment.
The problem is twofold:
--Each club is looking for a rare commodity.
--Each is limited in what it can offer.
The Angels are seeking a starting pitcher. They are offering demoted center fielder Gary Pettis, 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.
The Dodgers are seeking a No. 1 shortstop and an established relief pitcher. They remain reluctant, in Claire's words, to trade either Orel Hershiser or Bob Welch, their widely sought pitchers. The thinking seems to be: Why shatter the club's one strength, the rotation of Hershiser, Welch, Fernando Valenzuela and Shawn Hillegas?
One Dodger official said: "All anyone talks about are Welch and Hershiser. That tells you what people think about our other players. If something is going to happen in Dallas it will have to come out of the blue because there's nothing close to imminent. At this point it looks like Mariano Duncan is going to be our shortstop again."
Duncan, recovering from knee surgery, is primarily playing second base in the Dominican Winter League. Claire said he has been encouraged by the reports, but Duncan apparently has to show more than physical stability. There seem to be lingering questions about his attitude and dedication.
"If we don't make a trade, some positive things need to happen if we're going to turn it around," Claire acknowledged.
He added, however, that it's conceivable the Dodgers may not be able to trade, that he didn't regard it as mandatory and that he wouldn't be forced into making a trade for the sake of trading or to satisfy the fans' desires.
"If we trade, it will be only to benefit the team," he said, adding that giving up Hershiser or Welch didn't seem beneficial.
"I would term it doubtful," he said of a possible deal involving either of those pitchers. "What we want to do is build around the strength of our starting pitching. We're fortunate to have three proven starting pitchers and two youngsters (Hillegas and Matt Belcher) who pitched well in September. We're also getting very positive reports on Tim Leary's performance in the Mexican Winter League. (Leary is 5-0.) We regard it as encouraging."
What are the Dodgers left to offer if Welch and Hershiser remain untouchable?
Leary's winter record makes him a possibility, but Claire would not be more specific.
Others in the organization said that the late-season acquisition of second baseman Mike Sharperson or the continuing comeback of Duncan, providing the Dodgers acquire a shortstop, could leave Steve Sax vulnerable to trade or a move to the outfield, though Sax's marketability is questionable because of his erratic defense.
Mike Marshall, they said, may also remain a candidate for trade, though his own marketability seems equally questionable because of a widely known susceptibility to injury and illness.
Claire said that Marshall and Pedro Guerrero, despite their antagonistic relationship, could play on the same team and that the problems of last season were behind them. He seemed to imply that he is as reluctant to deal Marshall or Guerrero as he is Welch or Hershiser.
He alluded to the Dodgers' team batting average, low in the National League last season, and said:
"We need as much offense as we can get. I'm not ruling out anyone, but if you remove Marshall and Guerrero from the Dodger ballclub, you've removed two very large parts. I rate their value very highly."
A surprising number of shortstops are said to be available, including the New York Mets' Rafael Santana, the St. Louis Cardinals' Jose Oquendo, the Cleveland Indians' Julio Franco, the Oakland A's Alfredo Griffin, the San Diego Padres' Garry Templeton, the Angels' Polidor, and the Atlanta Braves' Rafael Ramirez and Andres Thomas.
Would any of them represent an improvement over what the Dodgers already have, or can the Dodgers provide what the respective club may want? In most cases, the answers seem to be no.
Welch, at this time, reportedly represents the price for Griffin, Franco, Oquendo or Santana. The Dodgers, according to a source, have already rejected an offer by the Mets of Santana, relief pitcher Jesse Orosco and outfielder Mookie Wilson for Welch. Claire's talks with the Mets here could be worth monitoring, however.
New York is eager to make room for shortstop Kevin Elster and is said to be high on a Dodger pitching prospect named Ramon Martinez, who was 4-1 in the Florida State League.