MILWAUKEE — The Angels acquired pitcher Jim Abbott from the Chicago White Sox Thursday in a deal that should bolster their starting rotation and pennant hopes, restore fans' faith in the organization and rectify one of the most controversial trades in team history.
Abbott, the left-handed starter who was the Angels' most popular player from 1989-92, will return with another former Angel, reliever Tim Fortugno, in exchange for four minor leaguers, including triple-A pitcher Andrew Lorraine and outfielder McKay Christensen, the team's 1994 first-round pick who is serving a two-year Mormon mission in Japan.
"I'm a little . . . I have mixed . . . I don't know, it's difficult," Abbott, 27, said during a conference call, seemingly stunned by the trade despite recent rumors the White Sox would deal him.
"I'm excited to be coming back to the Angels, especially with the team they have this year, but I also have some close friends in Chicago. It's not easy to leave. That doesn't mean I'm not excited to be coming back, but I have mixed feelings."
Abbott, who will join the Angels in Milwaukee today and start Saturday against the Brewers, did not waver on one point: He can't wait to be reunited with Angel Manager Marcel Lachemann, the Angel pitching coach during Abbott's years in Anaheim, and close friends such as Chuck Finley and Mark Langston.
"He taught me how to pitch," Abbott said of Lachemann. "He was an incredible pitching coach and he's done an amazing job as manager. I can't say enough about him. I think the world of him."
The feeling is mutual. Though the Angels had pursued pitchers such as Toronto's David Cone, St. Louis' Ken Hill and Minnesota's Kevin Tapani, General Manager Bill Bavasi said Abbott was the Angels' No. 1 choice all along.
The addition of Abbott, who was 6-4 with a 3.36 earned-run average in 17 starts for Chicago, to a rotation that already features left-handers Finley, Langston and Brian Anderson gives the Angels one of the most formidable staffs in the American League. It also keeps the Angels on pace with the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians, who acquired Hill from St. Louis Thursday.
Some scouts have insisted Abbott's velocity has decreased in recent years, but the former Michigan standout, who also relies on a curve and cut fastball, has been the White Sox's best pitcher this season.
"We're obviously very satisfied with his numbers and his performance--the fact we gave up four prospects for him speaks for itself," Bavasi said. "And I'm not concerned about having four lefties in the rotation--not when they're four good ones.
"Everyone's very excited, very fired up about having Jim back. He's a little extra special, and I'd assume our marketing department is excited about having him back, too. But the biggest thing is we've added another top-quality starter."
The deal won't break the Angel bank, either. Abbott, who can become a free agent after this season, has a base salary of $2 million with an additional $775,000 in easily attainable incentive clauses.
The Angels will have to pay Abbott only for the remaining 60 games of this season--about $740,000--but it is unclear whether the White Sox or Angels will be responsible for paying for the incentive package.
In addition to Lorraine, a fourth-round pick in 1993, and Christensen, the sixth overall pick in the 1994 draft, the Angels sent Bill Simas, a right-handed reliever at Vancouver, and John Snyder, a right-handed starter at double-A Midland, Tex., to Chicago.
Coincidentally, Abbott will replace Russ Springer in the Angel rotation. Springer was one of three players--first baseman J.T. Snow and pitcher Jerry Nielsen were the others--traded from the New York Yankees to the Angels in exchange for Abbott in December, 1992.
That deal, by General Manager Whitey Herzog, sparked a fan furor similar to one created when General Manager Buzzie Bavasi allowed Angel ace Nolan Ryan to go to Houston as a free agent after the 1979 season. Abbott, like Ryan before him, was the runaway clubhouse leader in volume of fan mail received.
It wasn't as if the Angels just let Abbott go, though. Abbott, a 1988 first-round pick who had a 47-52 record and 3.49 earned-run average in 125 starts as an Angel, balked at the team's four-year, $16-million contract offer.
Herzog, figuring he would lose Abbott to free agency, decided to get what he could for the pitcher, sending him to the Yankees for three prospects. Snow has developed into one of the league's best all-around first basemen, Springer has shuffled between the Angels' bullpen and starting rotation and Vancouver, and Nielsen was released in 1994.
"I don't think in monetary figures," Abbott said. "I didn't decline to come back to the Angels--they traded me."
Abbott wound up going to arbitration with the Yankees and made $2.35 million in 1993 and $2.75 million in 1994, far less than he would have made with the Angels.