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San Diego Sportscene

Trader Jack Discovers Nothing on the Table

December 16, 1987|Dave Distel

That deafening quiet you have been hearing since the baseball season ended is all the noise the Padres have been making.

Call it eerie.

For Jack McKeon, call it frustrating.

McKeon's idea of the winter meetings corresponds with shoppers' perception of the day after Christmas. It is supposed to be a feverish time of elbow-to-elbow battling for bargains, the more frantic the better.

Indeed, The Big One to McKeon is not earth shaking, but rather an earthshaking trade involving seven or eight players. It's all the better if a past (or future) Cy Young Award winner is involved and maybe a youthful slugger, a minor league player of the year and a World Series hero. The bigger the better.

No sugar plums dance in this man's head. McKeon dreams of change-of-address cards. The more the better.

This man trades on the nickname Trader Jack.

What happened last week in the winter meetings was that nothing happened, at least to the Padres.

It was "See ya later, Trader."

It just wasn't natural. Something had to be brewing below the surface.

What's the real story? Wasn't there something big that came this close to happening? Isn't there a blockbuster on the horizon?

"Not really," McKeon said.

He sounded almost sleepy. There was not a trace of concern in his voice. I expected him to sound dismayed, disgruntled, distressed. He seemed as contented as if he had just smoked one of his after-dinner cigars.

"I figured, going in, I'd like to do something," he said. "I contacted a lot of clubs, all of them, but I didn't want to do something just to do it. I had to help the ballclub, or it wouldn't be a good move."

Nothing could be done to help the Padres? Didn't they finish last? Are they beyond repair?

"We have a young ballclub," McKeon said. "I don't think we have the ingredients to swing a big one. We don't have the players to match up in a trade. We couldn't make a trade without giving away the foundation we've been building, and I'm not going to give away the foundation."

McKeon was right.

The Padres' roster is not structured in a way that makes significant trades sensible. This team does not have an overload at any position, at least an overload of players who would "match up"--to use McKeon's word--in a major transaction.

When McKeon is approached about possible trades, he cringes because he knows what names will come up.

You can guess them.

Tony Gwynn. Sure. Who are you offering? The moon?

Benito Santiago. Sure. Who are you offering? The stars?

Lance McCullers. Sure. Who are you offering? The sun?

Jack McKeon simply isn't going to trade those guys. He would have to be overmatched, and even then this most prolific of traders would probably hesitate. You see, the "match up" has to go both ways.

The Padres' problem is that the guys they might be willing to trade would not fetch them a Bob Welch or a Dave Parker or a Lee Smith or an Alfredo Griffin. They could get veterans with limited futures or untested youngsters who may have no futures at all.

These would not be McKeonesque trades. These would not rattle baseball's galaxy.

Indeed, it does not look as if the National League West has been shaken to any degree by what has happened thus far. McKeon does not seem to think so.

"Cincinnati helped themselves picking up Danny Jackson," he said. "The Giants picked up Brett Butler (as a free agent), but that was a tradeoff for losing Chili Davis. I don't know about the Dodgers. They got two relievers (Jesse Orosco and Jay Howell) coming off bad years or arm problems, but sometimes it's hard to tell. The shortstop (Griffin) will help them if he's healthy."

Though the Padres seem content with seeing how far their developing young players can take them, McKeon has not completely given up. But he is looking for role players rather than leading men.

"I would like to pick up a hitter who'd give us some sock," he said. "Not a home run guy, but a steady run producer. And I'd like to get a guy to strengthen our bench a little bit, maybe a backup infielder who can play short and give us a chance to rest Garry Templeton."

It's not exactly an exotic wish list.

Obviously, this is a different sort of off-season for Jack McKeon. His Rolodex will continue to spin, but so, too, will his wheels. Quietly.

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