Between committee meetings and labor discussions, the bigwigs of baseball did find time to move a lot of talent around. Here are some of the results. National League West: The Braves were the last team in need of Greg Maddux, the 1992 National League Cy Young winner, but general manager John Schuerholz signed him anyway, envisioning a rotation that could dominate for the rest of the decade. Maddux joins Tom Glavine, the best lefthander in baseball. And John Smoltz, last year's National League strikeout leader. And Steve Avery, probably the first pitcher you would select if you were starting a team. And Pete Smith, who was merely 7-0 last season. None of them is older than 26.
"I've never seen anything like the five Atlanta has now," says Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller. "They're scary." Only two teams in baseball history have had four 20-game winners in one season: the 1920 White Sox and the '71 Orioles. Since divisional play began in 1969, only three National League teams have had two 20-game winners in the same season. Atlanta has a realistic shot at three.
"If the Braves had stood pat," said Astro general manager Bill Wood (who added free-agent aces Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell to his own rotation), "they would have been tough to catch. But now...."
This division now boasts the National League's last four MVPs, its last five Cy Young winners and its last three Rookies of the Year. "Pretty hairy, isn't it?" said Wood.
National League East: When the Expos acquired pitcher Mike Gardiner from the Red Sox in a deal for outfielder Ivan Calderon, Gardiner temporarily joined Mark Gardner (who was traded to the Royals the next day) in Montreal's starting rotation. "I can't believe [free-agent pitcher] Bobby Ojeda isn't thinking about signing with us," said Richard Griffin, the Expo public relations director. "We have two gardeners on our team." Ojeda, you might recall, severed the top of his left middle finger while trimming shrubs at his home in 1988.
The expansion Marlins did well by signing free-agent pitcher Charlie Hough to a one-year deal. There's no better guy in the clubhouse than Hough, who can still pitch even though he will be 45 by Opening Day next season. Asked about hitting for the first time since 1980, Hough, an American Leaguer the past 12 seasons, said, "No, no, no. I will be batting, not hitting. I'll have to take some swings before spring training to make sure nothing is broken." Hough will be the oldest player to bat in a game since Pete Rose, who was 45 when he last stepped to the plate, in '86. "Yeah," said Hough, "but he didn't take 13 years off between swings."
American League West: It's mystifying why the Angels felt the need to trade pitcher Jim Abbott after they were unable to sign him to a long-term contract (he turned down a four-year, $16 million deal). What's the rush? Abbott is not eligible for free agency for two more years. The Angels needed more bodies, true, but they didn't adequately fill their desperate need for hitting by trading him to the Yankees for minor league first baseman J.T. Snow and two minor league pitchers, Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen.
American League East: The Red Sox did well at the meetings by acquiring quality people. New rightfielder Andre Dawson is 38 years old, but he immediately steps in as a team leader and the cleanup hitter. Infielder Scott Fletcher, pitcher Scott Bankhead and outfielder Calderon are solid, hard-nosed guys. Together the four should help transform what has been one of the most petulant, unmanageable clubhouses in the game. Now, if the Sox can pull off the speculated trade with San Diego for pitcher Bruce Hurst and sign free-agent reliever Tom Henke, they can make a run at the division title.
STEPHEN GREEN/FOCUS ON SPORTS
Drabek (above) will steady the Houston staff; Dawson will soothe the Boston clubhouse.