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Baseball Takes It Out in Trade : In a Giant Deal, Mitchell Gets Keys to the Kingdome : Baseball: Controversial slugger traded to Mariners for three pitchers. Wetteland goes to Expos, his third team in less than a month.

December 12, 1991|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MIAMI BEACH — A recession of sorts struck the Pacific Sock Exchange Wednesday. Only Will Clark and Matt Williams remained after the San Francisco Giants traded Kevin Mitchell to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Bill Swift, Mike Jackson and Dave Burba.

"You only get a guy of his ability if there have been problems," Roger Jongewaard, Mariner vice president of scouting, said of Mitchell's off-the-field behavior. "You don't get him if he's the All-American guy. It's a gamble, but this wasn't an overnight decision. He checks out fine."

Highlighted by the Mitchell trade, the final day of baseball's winter meetings produced onlymodest activity otherwise.

Whitey Herzog, who dominated the meeting in his debut as the Angels' senior vice president/player personnel, departed early, leaving:

--The revamped Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos to complete a five-player trade in which former Dodger pitcher John Wetteland joined his third team in less than a month.

--The Philadelphia Phillies to obtain infield insurance by trading pitcher Bruce Ruffin, 42-58 for his career, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Dale Sveum, a .243 hitter.

--The New York Mets to send infielder Jeff Gardner to the San Diego Padres for left-handed pitcher Steve Rosenberg.

Ostensibly, Giant President Al Rosen maintained, Mitchell was traded because of a need to rebuild the pitching staff, but among other factors were a series of injuries contributing to a drop in his home run totals from 47 to 35 to 27 over the last three years, a losing battle with weight, and concern over his associations and behavior--his recent exoneration on a rape charge was merely the latest incident.

Trouble, Rosen said, seems to find Mitchell, who has marched to his own beat.

"He comes to the park when the other guys are ready, and players get to the point where they resent it," Rosen said. "They don't resent it when he plays, but they resent the hell out of it when he doesn't."

Nevertheless, Rosen said: "You hate to trade a potent force and break up the combination. He helped make Clark and Williams better, but we had our worst year last year because our pitching failed. It was incumbent on me to do something about it if I could, and Kevin gave us the best chance."

Rosen narrowed the Mitchell options to a trade with the Texas Rangers for relief ace Jeff Russell, and the trade with Seattle for a potential starter (Swift), a likely middle man (Burba) and a set-up man (Jackson) for closer Dave Righetti.

"I'd rather have (acquired) the three quality arms than one top starter or reliever," Rosen said.

"We improve the entire staff this way. Plus, our pitching will be better because our defense will be (without Mitchell in left field)."

Mark Leonard will be given an unconditional chance to fulfill his minor league promise as the new left fielder, Rosen said. Darren Lewis is expected to play center, with Willie McGee, Kevin Bass and Mike Felder among the outfield options.

Mitchell's salary, $3.75 million for each of the next three years, doesn't fit the payroll plans of either the Giants or the Mariners, but Swift and Jackson, who are eligible for arbitration, should match it, so money wasn't a pivotal factor.

However, at a time when the Mariners are for sale and have the appearance of a lame-duck team in Seattle, Mitchell's acquisition might make the Mariners more attractive to fans and/or a prospective buyer.

"Taking on a $3.75-million contract lets people know we're trying to win," Jongewaard said. "The easy way would have been to play it out, to wait and see what happens."

In the cozy Kingdome, if that's where the Mariners play in '92, there is no telling how many home runs Mitchell will hit, said Jongewaard, who added that he will also provide protection behind Ken Griffey Jr. in a Northwest Sock Exchange that also includes Jay Buhner.

"Junior had a hard time winning games for us because no one in their right mind would pitch to him with the game on the line," Jongewaard said.

Wetteland, traded by the Dodgers to the Reds in the Eric Davis deal, was traded with pitcher Bill Risley to the Expos for outfielder Dave Martinez, who provides insurance behind touted Reggie Sanders in center field; pitcher Scott Ruskin, a set-up man for Rob Dibble, and infield prospect Willie Greene.

Since the end of the season, the Reds have added Belcher and Greg Swindell to their rotation, speed in the form of Bip Roberts in left field and improved depth via Wednesday's trade, which ends their retooling.

"We're going to have fun next summer," Manager Lou Piniella said.

Wetteland might have fun, too. He will have a chance to become the Expos' closer, said General Manager Dan Duquette, who added that he was influenced to close the deal by Wetteland's 20 saves in 21 chances at triple-A Albuquerque last season and his current nine-for-nine record in Venezuela.

"Our reports on him remind me of a young Jay Howell," Duquette said as he prepared to leave, accompanied by most of the other general managers.

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