Last month, when Jackson and Andy Benes, one of the best young pitchers in the league, won their arbitration cases, one of the owners suggested that the Padres release them. What!
This line of thinking goes back at least as far as last May, when San Diego was beginning to look like a contender for the division title. At the time, one worried owner was heard to say, "What if we win? What will happen to the payroll?" Then in August, when the Padres needed another starting pitcher to make a run at the Atlanta Braves, the owners wouldn't provide the money to get one.
"If we had gotten that pitcher and kept everyone else," says Werner, "we would have lost $20 million this year." Instead, on Aug. 31 the Padres traded Lefferts, a 13-game winner, to the Orioles for Gutierrez and Triple A pitcher Erik Shullstrom.
"The owners were telling me all year to get rid of Lefferts's and Santiago's salaries," says McIlvaine. "But no team was interested in Benny. [In addition to having his big salary, Santiago was perceived by some teams as needing an attitude adjustment; the Marlins signed him to a two-year, $7.2 million contract.] I couldn't trade him. We were going to lose Lefferts after the season to free agency and get nothing back."
By not picking up Fernandez's option, the Padres had until two days after the World Series to trade him, or they would lose him outright. He was dealt to the Mets for Wally Whitehurst, a potential fifth starter; minor league outfielder/sometime NFL running back D.J. Dozier; and a minor league catcher. Losing Jackson, Hurst or both would be as devastating to the San Diego lineup as losing Fernandez was.
Jackson, 29, is one of the game's most underrated and dedicated players. He's solid defensively and has power. Hurst, who will make $2.75 million this year, is expected to be moved as soon as his left shoulder is fit. He had arthroscopic surgery in the oil-season, but he may not be fully recovered until early May.
San Diego and the Boston Red Sox had worked out a trade involving Jackson, but it fell apart. The Detroit Tigers have also shown interest in Jackson, who is resigned to the fact that he will be changing teams sometime soon. "I get handshakes every day from teammates who say, 'Well, if I don't see you again...." says Jackson, smiling. "My wife now just says, 'Call me if something happens.' "
The way Werner sees it, as long as he has Gwynn, Sheffield and slugging first baseman Fred McGriff, "how bad can we be?" But as a former owner of a Rotisserie League team, Werner should know that three players can't win anything—this is major league baseball, not a four-man scramble in golf.
"It takes 25 players to win, and our 25 last year were as good as any I've seen here," says Gwynn, who replaces Fernandez as the Padre leadoff hitter. "There's no way three guys can carry the load. I'm no leadoff hitter, but I'm working at it. You can't tell Fred, 'You hit 35 homers last year; this year you've got to hit 45.' You can't tell Gary, 'You almost won the Triple Crown last year; you've got to win it this year.' You can't put that pressure on them, but that's what these trades are doing. There's an uncertainty in the air. We know it's a business, but it still sucks from a player's viewpoint."
And from McIlvaine's. His job as San Diego's general manager may be in peril. "I don't want pity," he says. "This is a roadblock. We hope it's temporary." McIlvaine isn't blameless in the Padres' decline either. Since taking over after the 1990 season, he has made some bad signings, including pitcher Larry Andersen, infielder Kurt Stillwell and third baseman Jim Presley, who together cost approximately $9 million. All have been busts. McIlvaine also traded outfielder Bip Roberts to the Cincinnati Reds for Myers; Roberts now is one of the game's top leadoff men, while Myers pitches for the Chicago Cubs.