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TORONTO Blue Jays
Tom Verducci
March 31, 1997
The biggest trade in Blue Jays history began with a simple objective: Find a second baseman. In attempting to replace departed free agent Robbie Alomar last season, Toronto tried Tomas Perez, Domingo Cedeno, Tilson Brito, Felipe Crespo and Miguel Cairo at second. Anyway you look at it, none of them provided a strong regular middle infield partner for 23-year-old shortstop Alex Gonzalez. "I thought we did a disservice to Alex," general manager Gord Ash says.
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March 31, 1997

Toronto Blue Jays

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The Lineup

CF

Otis Nixon

Leads the major leagues with 356 steals in the 1990s

2B

Carlos Garcia

Good bat control but lacks patience at plate

RF

Orlando Merced

Similar production to that of the traded John Olerud

1B

Joe Carter

Poor play in the outfield forces switch to the infield

3B

Ed Sprague

Last season hit .269 before All-Star break, .223 after

DH

Carlos Delgado

Yet to prove he can hit lefties: .152, two homers in '96

C

Benito Santiago

Career highs in home runs (30) and walks (49) last year

LF

Shawn Green

May share playing time with Jacob Brumfield

SS

Alex Gonzalez

Solid glove but needs to reduce strikeouts (127)

Ace

Pat Hentgen

121 major league starts without missing a turn

Closer

Mike Timlin

31 saves in '96, his first year in this role

The biggest trade in Blue Jays history began with a simple objective: Find a second baseman. In attempting to replace departed free agent Robbie Alomar last season, Toronto tried Tomas Perez, Domingo Cedeno, Tilson Brito, Felipe Crespo and Miguel Cairo at second. Anyway you look at it, none of them provided a strong regular middle infield partner for 23-year-old shortstop Alex Gonzalez. "I thought we did a disservice to Alex," general manager Gord Ash says.

So Ash, who had tried unsuccessfully to work a trade with the Pirates last August for pitcher Denny Neagle, revived discussions with Pittsburgh in November, this time with second baseman Carlos Garcia as his target. Several other clubs joined the pursuit of Garcia, but six days and dozens of permutations later Toronto's quest culminated in a nine-player deal. The Blue Jays also received outfielder Orlando Merced and pitcher Dan Plesac in return for six prospects.

The Tigers were the only American League team to hit worse than Toronto last year. And only they and the Angels lost more games than the Blue Jays. While the addition of Roger Clemens bolsters the rotation, Toronto is counting on three career National Leaguers—Garcia, Merced and catcher Benito Santiago, whom the Jays signed as a free agent—to upgrade its offense and return it to contender status.

After the trade with Pittsburgh, Ash obtained a telephone number for Garcia, expecting to find him in his native Venezuela. Instead, the phone rang at Garcia's house in suburban Buffalo, where he had settled after meeting his wife there when he was a minor leaguer. He's one of the few players whose off-season training regimen includes shoveling the driveway. "My first winter in Buffalo I saw snow for the first time, and it was like I was in the movies," says Garcia.

Garcia was lifting weights, not a shovel, in his basement when Ash called. "I was a little shocked," he says. "In my heart I wanted to stay with Pittsburgh. Everything I own I got because of that organization. But if I was going to be traded, it was great to go someplace close to home."

Two veteran scouts say Toronto got the third-best second baseman in the majors, behind only Alomar and the Twins' Chuck Knoblauch. Garcia is a lifetime .278 hitter who has the arm strength and range of a shortstop. Indeed he advanced through the Pirates' system as a shortstop.

After the 1992 season, in anticipation that Pittsburgh would trade incumbent second baseman Jose Lind, Garcia worked out at second in Venezuela for four hours a day. He was an All-Star by his second year at the position. He started just 66 games at second last season because of a hamstring injury and because the Pirates also used him at shortstop and third. Knowing he was set at second with Toronto, Garcia worked overtime this spring with Gonzalez. He welcomed the extra work, especially because relatively mild weather had made his conditioning program in upstate New York this winter a light one. "I think I only had to shovel twice," he says.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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