DALLAS — One of nine general managers attending baseball's winter meetings for the first time, Fred Claire spoke with nine teams Sunday as the Dodgers continued their pursuit of a shortstop and relief pitcher.
"I don't know the ground rules of the past," Claire said in between meetings. "I'm making up my own as we go along. I'm not easily offended and I'm not playing any games.
"We're trying to be as direct as possible and save as much time as we can. We came here looking for a shortstop and relief pitcher and we're stating that intent as seriously as we can."
How serious are the Dodgers?
The answer may continue to hinge on their reluctance to trade Bob Welch.
The one rumor that won't go away is that the New York Mets continue to press an offer of shortstop Rafael Santana, relief pitcher Jesse Orosco and outfielder Mookie Wilson for Welch, whose acquisition would allow the Mets to employ Rick Aguilera and David Coan in relief.
Claire would not identify the nine clubs he talked with Sunday, but sources confirmed that the Mets continued the negotiations that began at the recent general managers meetings in Florida.
The Mets are also believed to be discussing a similar proposal with an unidentified American League club, but Vice President Joe McIlvaine told New York writers Sunday that his discussions with the National League team--the Dodgers--seemed to be warmer than ever.
Asked if the Dodgers could satisfy both of their needs in the same trade, alluding to the possible acquisition of Santana and Orosco, Claire said:
"I think that's a possibility."
Would he reconsider his reluctance to trade Welch or Orel Hershiser?
"It would depend on the caliber of players we were getting," he said.
Is he now more optimistic than hopeful of consummating a trade here?
"Let's just say I'm not discouraged by where we are at this point," he said.
The Mets' proposition could be reshaped to exclude Welch, of course, but the Dodgers then would have to give up a package of prospects, providing it remained a Santana-Orosco-Wilson offer.
Why are those three Mets available?
Orosco, dissatisfied with his lack of employment after an inconsistent start last year, and Wilson, unhappy at having to platoon with Lenny Dystra in center field, have both asked to be traded. Santana, a 29-year-old defensive specialist who had one of his strongest offensive seasons, batting .255 with 44 runs batted in, is now thought of as expendable because of the development of Kevin Elster. Santana made 17 errors in 138 games last year. Dodger shortstops made a total of 30 errors, 21 by Mariano Duncan in 67 games.
"We feel there's a need to improve the club and we're working hard to get it done," Manager Tom Lasorda said.
Lasorda and special assignment scouts Mel Didier, Jerry Stephenson and the recently hired Steve Boros are part of Claire's negotiating team.
They are also known to have met with the Chicago White Sox to explore the availability of shortstop Ozzie Guillen; the Toronto Blue Jays to investigate the availability of their deep relief pitching, and the Boston Red Sox.
The meeting with Boston reportedly centered on the availability of relief pitcher Calvin Schiraldi and a middle infielder, presumably either Spike Owen or Marty Barrett.
Having traded for Detroit pitcher Dan Petry Saturday night, the Angels' Mike Port reiterated Sunday that he remains hopeful of acquiring two more pitchers before the meetings end. This time, however, he said that one could come in trade and the other in today's annual draft of unprotected minor leaguers.
Port also said that he plans an investigatory meeting with Bill Goodstein, the agent for Dave Righetti, the New York Yankees free agent relief pitcher, following his arrival here today.
The Angels, of course, recently returned to the free-agent market via the signing of Chili Davis.
Owner Gene Autry, reached in Palm Springs prior to his scheduled departure this morning for Dallas, was asked if he would approve the signing of another.
"I don't want to get into a bidding war," Autry said, "but if someone comes to us and says 'here's the price, here's what it will take' then on that basis we'll discuss it. I have an open mind if it's a player who can definitely help us."
The Angels' need is for a starting pitcher. Righetti has done both--start and relieve.
Goodstein, reached at his New York office, said Righetti is agreeable to either.
"Dave thinks he could return to the rotation and win 20 games because he has that much more experience and a greater variety of pitches now," Goodstein said. "But if pushed to the wall for one or the other, he's grown comfortable in the bullpen the last four years and would prefer to stay there.
"Considering his 137 saves and a proven record of durability, he has a chance at the all-time saves record and, ultimately, the Hall of Fame. Those are important considerations."