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Herges Trade Is a Tear Jerker

Baseball: Dodgers send versatile relief pitcher to Expos in deal that seems geared more to future than the present.

March 24, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Matt Herges throws a fastball, slider and changeup, but he got a taste of a wicked curve Saturday. This pitch was thrown by the Dodgers, who traded Herges and double-A shortstop Jorge Nunez to the Montreal Expos for reliever Guillermo Mota and outfield prospect Wilkin Ruan, a deal that left Herges in tears.

"I sobbed--I sobbed hard--every time I think about it, I well up," said Herges, who hoped to become the Dodger closer. "My heart is absolutely broken. I'm in shock. I've got to sort everything out. It twists your life around, but as soon as I come to grips with it, I'll be excited to move to Montreal."

The trade alleviates some pressure on an overcrowded Dodger roster, it cements Eric Gagne's move from the rotation to the bullpen--and most likely the closer role--and virtually assures left-hander Omar Daal, who is guaranteed $5 million, a spot on the team. But it came at a steep price and with a questionable return.

Herges was a bullpen workhorse, a 32-year-old right-hander who went 20-11 with a 3.30 earned-run average in 210 innings the past two years. The setup man was also one of the most popular players on the team, no minor detail for an organization that has stressed the importance of clubhouse chemistry all winter.

In exchange, the Dodgers received a hard-throwing, 29-year-old right-hander who has been one of baseball's most hittable relievers and will probably open the season at triple-A Las Vegas, and a speedy 23-year-old outfielder with no power who will open at double-A Jacksonville.

Mota's fastball has been clocked at 94-97 mph, but it has little movement. His slider and changeup have been inconsistent. In parts of three big league seasons, opponents have batted a whopping .334 against him.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Mota was shut down because of shoulder tendinitis last July. He was activated in September but never regained his effectiveness, finishing with a 1-3 record and 5.26 ERA in 53 games. Mota had a 1.59 ERA on May 12, a span of 20 appearances, but he had an 8.33 ERA in 23 subsequent games.

Baseball America ranked Ruan the Expos' 13th-best prospect, rating his speed, outfield defense and outfield arm ahead of any other player in the organization. But in 1,893 at-bats over five minor league seasons, Ruan has only eight home runs.

"We had to make a decision based on now and the future," Dodger General Manager Dan Evans said. "We really liked the two players involved. If Mota doesn't make the team, he adds pitching depth and will close at triple A, and [Wilkin] is a potential Gold Glove center fielder with great speed. We need to fill in the gap of players between the major leagues and the lower minor leagues."

The Dodgers have one of baseball's worst farm systems, so the addition of prospects can't hurt, but the trade seems to do little to improve the big league club this season.

One benefit, though--as pointed out in the Dodgers' news release of the deal--is that Mota still has minor league options.

That will enable the Dodgers to demote Mota to Las Vegas without the risk of losing him through waivers and to retain Daal, who has attracted virtually no trade interest but gives the Dodgers a rotation option should one of their starters get hurt.

The Dodgers probably will open the season with a rotation of Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii, Andy Ashby and Odalis Perez and a bullpen of right-handers Gagne, Paul Quantrill and Giovanni Carrara and left-handers Terry Mulholland, Jesse Orosco and Daal. Reliever Mike Trombley, who is guaranteed $2 million, probably will be traded this week.

Mota has thrown well this spring, giving up no runs on four hits, striking out eight and walking three in five innings, but his chances of making the Dodgers are slim.

Herges has struggled, giving up nine earned runs and 19 hits in nine spring innings, raising concerns he is not ready to become a closer, and that he may not be as effective as he has been in the past.

Herges will have an opportunity to close games for Montreal, but that is of little consolation. He signed with the Dodgers as a non-drafted free agent in 1992, toiled for almost eight full minor league seasons before getting his first taste of the big leagues in 1999, and was hoping to play his entire career in Los Angeles.

"I wanted to be like Eric Karros and play my whole career for one team," Herges said. "Unfortunately in baseball, that's rare. This is like leaving my family for the first time and going away to summer camp. It's tough. I love everyone in that clubhouse. But that's baseball, and that's life. I've got to stop crying and get on with it."

Once the tears dry, motivation will set in.

"Dan Evans," Herges said, "I will prove you wrong."

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