SAN DIEGO — A Chicago Cub official has confirmed that the club held contract discussions with Padre reliever Rich Gossage Wednesday, talks that reportedly are a precursor to a trade.
"Yes, there's been conversation," said Don Grenesko, Cub vice president of business operations. "But I don't know whether we can work it out or not."
Sources familiar with the possible trade say it would send Gossage and minor league pitcher Ray Hayward to the Cubs for outfielder/third baseman Keith Moreland and minor league second baseman Mike Brumley.
The snag that forced Wednesday's discussions is Gossage's contract, which includes a trade-veto clause. Already guaranteed $1 million in this, the final year of the deal, Gossage reportedly wants another year guaranteed at a higher figure before he approves the trade.
The Padres refused comment. Gossage, reached Wednesday night in San Diego, said agent Jerry Kapstein was talking with the Cubs but refused further comment. Kapstein did not return phone calls.
Gossage, 36, joined the Padres from the New York Yankees in time to lead them to the 1984 World Series. In his four seasons here, he has averaged 21 saves per season. But in 1987, despite moving into second place on the all-time list with 289, Gossage had a career-low 11 saves. And for the first time in his career, he was never used in back-to-back games.
His career began 15 years ago in Chicago, with the White Sox.
Gossage's departure would open the way for Lance McCullers, 23, to become the Padres' stopper. Last season, in largely a set-up role, McCullers led the team with 17 saves, striking out 126 in 123 innings and walking only 59.
The trade had been openly discussed since the December winter meetings but at that time included Padre outfielder Carmelo Martinez and Cub pitcher Jamie Moyer. That deal died when Cub pitcher Scott Sanderson underwent back surgery, which will keep him out until at least the all-star break, forcing the Cubs to keep Moyer.
"At one point they wanted one of our young pitchers," Jim Frey, Cub general manager, said earlier. "But I'm reluctant to to do anything with any of our pitchers because of the threat (of Sanderson's absence) that will be over our heads for a long time."
The trade would be the Padres' first off-season move. They are the only National League team to sit idle thus far.
The Padres are looking for a veteran who can can provide versatility in the field, power at the plate and influence in the clubhouse. Moreland, 33, is all of those things.
A nine-year-veteran who played with Padre Manager Larry Bowa in Philadelphia and Chicago, Moreland probably would be used in left field. But he could play third base, first base and catcher.
Last season, he was pressed into service as a third baseman, playing 150 games there and committing a major-league-high 28 errors. But he hit a career-high 27 homers, with 29 doubles, 88 RBIs and a .266 average. He has played in two championship series and a World Series.
Moreland is guaranteed $1.3 million over the next two seasons.
"One thing that stands out in my mind about Moreland is he's a great hitter with men on base, one of the best in baseball," Bowa said from his home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "He always seems to get the big hit. He's a real tough out.
"Outside of that, he would add a lot of versatility and veteran influence to anybody's team."
Only once in his eight full major league seasons has Moreland batted higher with the bases empty than with runners on base. If Moreland takes over in left, that may make Martinez expendable. Martinez recently signed a two-year contract, making him easier to trade.
Hayward and Brumley would not immediately be factors. Hayward, a left-hander, has been a perennial minor league star for the Padres, but in his four games with the big league team early last season, he allowed 12 hits in six innings, leading to a 16.50 ERA.
Brumley, a good fielder, had a 39-game shot with the Cubs last season when Ryne Sandberg was injured. He hit .202 with 2 doubles and a homer and 7 stolen bases.