BOSTON (AP) - The phone bills and scratched-out names on pads of
paper prove how much the New York Mets wanted Roberto Alomar.
The relentless approach by general manager Steve Phillips paid
off Tuesday, when the Mets completed a blockbuster eight-player deal with Cleveland to bring the All-Star second baseman to New York.
"We sit up in that room and all we do is dream all day about
different scenarios," Phillips said. "I have to admit that I thought this was a long shot. Even as late as midafternoon yesterday I thought it was a long shot. I didn't know if we would be able to come up with the right configuration."
The teams finally agreed on the deal that sent outfielder Matt
Lawton, outfield prospect Alex Escobar, pitcher Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named to Cleveland for Alomar, pitcher Mike Bacsik and outfielder-first baseman Danny Peoples.
One of the players to be named is lefty Billy Traber, New York's
first-round pick in 2000, according to a team official who spoke on condition he not be identified.
"I was kind of disappointed," Alomar said. "I was real happy
in Cleveland and thought I did a great job."
The first big deal of the winter meetings was completed by Phillips and new Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro
"I think I'll need a flak jacket when I get off the plane,
probably," Shapiro said, recognizing the deal will not be popular back in Cleveland. "Anytime you trade away a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, it's something you don't do lightly."
It was the second major move in four days for the Mets, who
dealt third baseman Robin Ventura to the Yankees last Friday for outfielder David Justice. It means New York most likely will move Edgardo Alfonzo from second base to third next season.
Of all the Mets' offseason targets, few were as enticing as
Alomar -- the do-everything second baseman who should invigorate the Mets' offense. Phillips was so enamored with Alomar that he called Indians GM Mark Shapiro almost daily since the World Series.
"Obviously when you're able to acquire a Hall of Fame-caliber
player like Robby, when you smell an opening you have to keep going at it to make it happen," Phillips said.
While the trade is an instant winner for the Mets, it might take
more time for the Indians to reap the dividends after trading one of the most talented players in franchise history.
Cleveland, which was won six of seven division titles, is in a
retooling stage, having lost Manny Ramirez and Alomar in the last year. Juan Gonzalez, who replaced Ramirez last season, is a free agent and unlikely to return.
I know this trade won't be immediately embraced," Shapiro said. "But it's more important to me how it will be perceived two months, six months, a year or two years down the road."
Alomar, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, will join with shortstop
Rey Ordonez to form one of the most acrobatic middle-infield duos. The deal immediately drew praise from Atlanta, the Mets' biggest competitors and seven-time defending NL East champions.
"He's probably one of the top 10 ballplayers in the game,"
Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "That's a great deal for the Mets. I'd rather see him in the other league. It's probably going to be the best infield defense in baseball."
To make room for Alomar, the Mets will shift Edgardo Alfonzo
back to third base. Alfonzo, who moved to second in 1999 when New York signed Ventura, would prefer to remain at second. Alomar said he plans to talk to Alfonzo about the move before spring training.
"I want him to feel really positive," Alomar said. "I feel
like I'll be behind him and he'll be behind me and we'll help each other out."
After winning the NL pennant in 2000, the Mets went 82-80 this
year, finishing with the fewest runs and lowest batting average in the majors and the second-fewest homers in the NL.
The 33-year-old Alomar, who played three seasons in Cleveland,
is a 12-time All-Star who hit a team-high .336 this year with 20 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 steals.
"We're going to be a much better team offensively," Phillips
said. "To get Roberto Alomar and add the presence of a David Justice behind Mike Piazza, we've improved. We're not going to stop. We're looking at other options."
The deal created some payroll flexibility for the Indians, who
estimate it will save $2 million. Cleveland owner Larry Dolan told Shapiro to trim $15 million off last season's $91 million payroll.
Alomar, who also has played for San Diego, Toronto and
Baltimore, gets $8 million next season and his contract contains an $8 million team option for 2003.
The Indians also are exploring a
deal for shortstop Omar Vizquel and are interested in trading for second basemen Fernando Vina of St. Louis and Pokey Reese of Cincinnati.
Lawton, 30, was acquired by the Mets from Minnesota for pitcher
Rick Reed last July. He combined to hit .277, with 13 homers and 64 RBIs last season.
"He's a line-drive hitter. He hits singles and doubles and can
hit the ball out of the ballpark," Indians manager Charlie Manuel said. "He'll make a significant impact on our ballclub."
Escobar, 23, was among the most prized prospects in the Mets'
farm system, but he struggled last season, striking out 146 times in 397 at-bats at Triple-A Norfolk.
"His strikeouts are a concern, but his talent has never
faded," Shapiro said. "We spent a great deal of time following him closely this season and we still felt he had the total package."
Riggan, a 27-year-old right-hander, was 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA in
35 relief appearances for New York.
Bacsik, 24, was the Indians' minor league pitcher of the year in
2001, going 13-6 with a 3.03 ERA.
Peoples, 26, had 17 homers and 48 RBIs for Triple-A Buffalo.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)