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Baseball at the Winter Meetings
Tim Kurkjian
December 16, 1991
Money for Muscle
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December 16, 1991

Baseball At The Winter Meetings

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Defensively, Bonilla is slightly below average as a rightfielder and is scheduled to learn a new position, leftfield, because Johnson will play right. Bonilla's weight, now around 240 pounds, could become a major problem by the end of the contract. The same ex-teammate says Bonilla has been getting slower every year. He also says that Bonilla might help the chemistry of the Mets clubhouse, but that his reputation as a happy-go-lucky, ever-upbeat player is overrated. "Bobby's kind of a phony," the source says. "I almost threw up when I heard him say all he wanted to do was go home [to his native New York City] to play. He went for the money. His contract was all he talked about all last year. We'll miss him, but in a way we're glad he's gone."

There's nothing phony about Murray, who has a scowl for every Bonilla smile and cares mostly about playing on a championship team. The moody Murray could be a good influence in the Mets clubhouse if they're winning, but a detriment if they're losing. Perhaps more significant for New York, which has suffered against lefthanders the past few years, Murray's average dipped to .217 last season against lefties. Still, he hit 19 home runs and drove in 96 runs in 1991, and he has had at least 17 home runs for 15 straight years. In the history of baseball, only Babe Ruth, Mel Ott and Henry Aaron had longer such streaks.

"I think Eddie's out to prove us wrong [for offering him only a one-year contract]," says a Dodger scout. "If he gets himself in better shape, he might have a hellacious year. But I worry about his defense. It's gone downhill a lot."

The acquisitions of Murray and Bonilla have given Harazin latitude in trading for a top starting pitcher. Kansas City's Kevin Appier has been mentioned—perhaps in exchange for first baseman Dave Magadan or outfielder Kevin McReynolds—but a Royals front office source says K.C. wouldn't make a deal for McReynolds, partly because he has three years and $10 million left on his contract. "Now if they want to talk Jefferies," the source says, "we'll listen."

Trading Jefferies would make the most sense because he can bring a No. 1 or No. 2 starter and because three tempestuous years in New York is enough. Despite hitting a so-so .272 in 1991, the 24-year-old Jefferies is a potential batting champ. But he's a bad third baseman and a horrible second baseman: bad hands, bad feet, bad instincts. "His lower half is not conducive to playing second," says McIlvaine. "But he's a guy they could deal. There's a premium on third basemen. He can play third. I know it."

Whatever G.M. Harazin does next, he insists he won't do much more via free agency. "You know," he says, "I've spent a lot of money already."

Short Hops...

The signing of knuckleballer Candiotti to a four-year, $15.5 million deal by the Dodgers looks like an overpay job, but Candiotti was actually the most attractive pitching investment among this year's free agents—definitely better than Frank Viola. Over the past four seasons his ERA ranks with the best in the American League. And remember, knuckleball pitchers historically hit their prime in their mid-30's; Candiotti is 34....

Having lost out in the Bonilla bonanza and having anticipated the free-agency departure of Wally Joyner, who signed with Kansas City on Monday, new Angel general manager Whitey Herzog showed his desperate need for hitting by trading Kyle Abbott, 23, a lefthander with promise, and 26-year-old Ruben Amaro Jr., a switch-hitting outfielder, for Phillie outfielder Von Hayes, 33, who hit no homers last year. "We ain't got no bats," Herzog said. "This team is null and void offensively." Score another steal for Philadelphia general manager Lee Thomas....

As of Monday night, the Rangers' plans remained in paralysis as team officials tried to determine whether they can re-sign Sierra, who will be a free agent after the 1992 season. Regardless, there was good reason to expect Texas to trade Julio Franco for pitching help. There's no way the Rangers can win a championship with as poor a defensive player as Franco playing second base....

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