Good Deal All Around
A three-way swap among the Blue Jays, Expos and Rangers looks like a three-way hit
Expos first baseman Lee Stevens won't be canonized for his moderately strong start (.286, eight home runs and 30 RBIs through Sunday), but his arrival in Montreal is explained in a hagiographic song. To paraphrase a line from the Grateful Dead's Saint Stephen, one team gathers what another team spills. The proverb aptly sums up the three-way trade in March that brought Stevens from the Rangers to the Expos, David Segui from the Blue Jays to Texas and Brad Fullmer from Montreal to Toronto. Says Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash, "The deal has worked out great for everybody."
When the triangular swap—which was orchestrated by Texas general manager Doug Melvin after he and Ash had spent months discussing a Segui-for-Stevens trade—was made, it looked to be an exchange of roughly interchangeable parts: three designated hitters-first basemen who had worn out their welcomes. Six weeks into the season it's hard to tell which team got the best of the deal.
The centerpiece of the swap has turned out to be Segui, mainly because he was second in the American League with a .370 average through Sunday. Fullmer, who asked the Expos to trade him last season after twice being demoted to the minors, replaced Segui as the Blue Jays' DH, a role Segui had reluctantly filled in Toronto after being dealt by the Mariners last July. "David DH'd for us, but it wasn't with a lot of enthusiasm," says Ash. "Brad is more accepting of his role."
Fullmer, who was publicly criticized by Expos manager Felipe Alou last season for his defensive shortcomings at first base as well as for his hitting, has embraced the designated hitter gig. He was batting .344 with seven homers and led the Blue Jays with 33 RBIs. For Toronto that performance represented a marked improvement over last year, when the Blue Jays had the weakest designated hitting in the league (.249, 24 homers, 81 RBIs). "At this stage of my career I'm not ready to limit myself to DH'ing, but everybody knows I love to hit," says the 25-year-old Fullmer, who as a rookie in 1998 batted .273 with 13 homers and 44 doubles for Montreal. "I don't think I was treated particularly fairly by my last organization. It's much more positive here."
Segui might find that hard to believe. He refutes the charge that he was unhappy as a DH for Toronto, but there's no doubt he's more comfortable in Texas—even though he's sharing time at first with Rafael Palmeiro. Segui had made 22 starts in the field and 14 at DH. "Ideally I'd rather play first base," says Segui, who in 1998 with Seattle led all major league first basemen in fielding percentage. "Being a DH is boring when you're used to playing the field. But I haven't made one complaint about where I play. Whatever [ Texas manager] Johnny Oates wants to do, I'll do."
The way Segui is batting, Oates would play him at first and DH if he could. A switch-hitter, Segui hit safely in 29 of his first 36 games, including a 13-game streak from April 25 to May 10, and through Sunday he was third in the league in hits (51) and fourth in on-base percentage (.446). He had also handled 192 chances in the field without an error. "[Segui and Palmeiro] are two guys you can't go wrong with," says Oates. "If Rafael has problems with his knees, you can stick David in there and still have a very good defensive first baseman. If Rafael's at first, you still have David's bat in the lineup."
Stevens hit 24 homers in the first base-DH role for Texas last season; he too welcomed the trade as a chance to be a full-time, two-way player. He has given the Expos an experienced bat to protect slugger Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup and has helped solidify an infield defense that was the National League's second-worst last season. "He has set-tied down some of our younger people in the infield and saved us a lot of pitches," says Alou, who then compares Stevens to a certain smooth-fielding first baseman he managed from 1995 to '97 "He's given us the best defensive play we've had since David Segui was here."
Indians Revisit Familiar Spot
After 23 days in the unaccustomed position of rank-and-file member of the American League Central—the longest they'd gone without at least sharing the division lead since a 40-day span in May and June of 1994—the Indians climbed into a first-place tie with the White Sox last Saturday. Their return (albeit for only one day, as a loss to the Royals on Sunday dropped Cleveland a game behind Chicago again) capped a week rife with signs that Cleveland is ready to return to business as usual.