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Going, Going. . . : Now Appearing for Your Team: Somebody Else


Who's on first? Forget it. The question in 1993 is this: Which team is Who with now?

A dizzying winter of player movement might require a summer of competition to sort out, particularly in the National League West.

Let's see: Greg Maddux went to the Atlanta Braves; Barry Bonds to the San Francisco Giants; Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell to the Houston Astros; Roberto Kelly, John Smiley and Kevin Mitchell to the Cincinnati Reds and Tim Wallach, Jody Reed, Cory Snyder and Todd Worrell to the Dodgers.

"I don't think it was a matter of keeping up with the Joneses as much as catching up with the Joneses," Atlanta General Manager John Schuerholz said. "We're all competitors in this business. If a team has been on top as we've been the last two years--and I've been on the other side, so I'm not being pompous or arrogant--you're motivated to find ways to close the gap."

Only time will determine how successfully Atlanta's rivals did that, but this much is certain: The traffic on the two-way street that is baseball loyalty didn't start and stop in the NL West.

Wade Boggs left his Boston Red Sox roots to play for the New York Yankees. Paul Molitor left the comfort of 15 years with the Milwaukee Brewers to play for American League East rival Toronto. The Blue Jays won a World Series and parted with Dave Winfield, Tom Henke, Jimmy Key, David Cone, Candy Maldonado, Manny Lee, Kelly Gruber and others before signing Molitor and Dave Stewart, who had been a stalwart in the Oakland Athletics' rotation and East Bay community.

Winfield took his World Series ring to the Minnesota Twins. Cone signed on with the Kansas City Royals, joining new acquisitions Jose Lind, Greg Gagne and Felix Jose. Key went to the Yankees, Henke and Lee to the Texas Rangers. Maldonado joined the Cubs in Chicago, where he will try to replace Andre Dawson, now with the Red Sox along with Ivan Calderon, acquired from the Montreal Expos.

The Angels traded their most popular and, perhaps, best pitcher, Jim Abbott, to the Yankees; and Milwaukee's No. 1 pitcher, Chris Bosio, went to the Seattle Mariners, joining Norm Charlton, traded by the Reds for Mitchell. Danny Jackson moved to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with Pete Incaviglia, Milt Thompson and Jim Eisenreich, and the New York Mets acquired Tony Fernandez and Frank Tanana.

Stimulated by free agency, expansion and the response of management to soaring payrolls, more than 250 players followed a variety of avenues to new teams--some at the minor league level--after the 1992 season.

Of the 153 players who filed for free agency, 91 signed with other teams, 24 agreed to triple-A contracts and three went to Japan.

Schuerholz said the movement is simply a spinoff of the system and the difficulty all clubs face with roster management amid the current economics.

"I've sat in meetings the last three days talking about our roster and how we want to open the season, but instead of ability, a lot of it has to do with salary," Schuerholz said.

Fred Claire, executive vice president of the Dodgers, said: "All of us have to do a better job of educating the fans regarding the system, so that they understand why some moves have to be made. With the structure as it is, it's impossible to avoid difficult decisions based on financial implications.

"There's no better evidence of the system's impact than what Toronto has done. When was the last time a World Series champion underwent that kind of turnover? And I don't mean that critically. If you overlaid the '50s with free agency, would the Dodgers have been able to keep the team of Campanella, Snider, Robinson, Furillo and Hodges together?"

Is that bad? Is continuity critical?

Said Schuerholz: "I have a belief that no matter what the mix is, and this may be a reflection of society in general, the modern-day fan focuses only on winning and having a winning team. If a general manager puts a winning team together, that's more important to the fans than any issue of loyalty or how long a player has been with the team."

Claire said he didn't totally agree.

"If we listen to the fans, and I think we should, then I think there's a definite concern with the amount of movement," he said. "I look back to the early '70s when we made trades for players like Jimmy Wynn, Frank Robinson, Dusty Baker and Richie Allen.

"I think those were looked on as positive boosts for the ballclub and fan interest, but there has been a significant and dramatic shift from that positive point to a point where fans have difficulty identifying and relating to the players because of the movement.

"But having said that, I also recognize that with all the TV, radio and media attention now, the players are easily more identifiable, and it doesn't take long for a Brett Butler or Jody Reed to develop a following. It's also impossible anymore to build a club strictly through your farm system, though that's where our emphasis is."

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