Burnitz, Rusch and Zeile move in three-team, 11-player trade

Tuesday, January 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The New York Mets pulled off a three-team, 11-player trade Monday night, acquiring Jeromy Burnitz from Milwaukee and sending Glendon Rusch to the Brewers and Todd Zeile to Colorado.

The Mets completed an offseason overhaul of their offense, getting the slugging outfielder they had been seeking after being spurned by free agent Juan Gonzalez. Burnitz will fit into a lineup with newcomers Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Roger Cedeno.

``This has been a rather complicated process, which seems to go with everything else this winter that we've done,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said.

New York also received pitcher Jeff D'Amico, infielder Lou Collier, outfielder Mark Sweeney and cash from Milwaukee. The Mets got two minor leaguers from Colorado: infielder/outfielder Ross Gload and pitcher Craig House.

The Brewers, who saved money by dealing Burnitz back to his original team, added a left-handed starter in Rusch. They also obtained outfielder Alex Ochoa from Colorado and infielder Lenny Harris from New York.

The Rockies filled their third base hole with Zeile and added outfielder Benny Agbayani. The Mets will pay about half of Zeile's $6 million contract.

``We got to the point where the players had been outlined for a while and it was a matter of making the financial end work,'' Phillips said.

GMs Dan O'Dowd of Colorado and Dean Taylor of Milwaukee have a history of making big deals. They took part in a four-team, nine-player swap on Dec. 13, 1999.

This is the biggest deal since December 1994, when Houston and San Diego pulled off a 12-player trade _ the most players dealt in the past 44 years. The Padres got outfielder Steve Finley and third baseman Ken Caminiti and Houston got outfielder Derek Bell.

After going to the World Series in 2000, the Mets went 82-80 last year, finishing with the fewest runs in the majors. They were second-to-last in average and homers in the NL.

Burnitz adds another big bat to a lineup that returns Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo.

``I think it's pretty exciting,'' Burnitz said. ``You mention all the names and it just speaks for itself. It will be nice to be a part of.''

Burnitz, who played two seasons with the Mets, hit .251 with 34 homers and 100 RBIs last season, although he struck out 150 times. The Mets only had 40 home runs from all of their outfielders in 2001.

D'Amico was 2-4 with a 6.08 ERA in 10 starts for Milwaukee last season. He missed four months because of an arm injury and had surgery July 2 to decompress a nerve in his right arm. D'Amico was one of the top NL pitchers in 2000, going 12-7 with a 2.66 ERA.

``When he was healthy in 2000, he absolutely dominated,'' Phillips said. ``He was always a highly touted pitcher. He was just besieged by injuries.''

With the latest deal, the Mets project their 2001 payroll to be a little more than $100 million _ about $5 million more than their original budget.

``We're spending an awful lot of money,'' Phillips said. ``We didn't set out with approval to spend it, but as things started to fall into place, and we felt we had improved, the team ownership and fans rallied behind it. That gave ownership the comfort level to expand it.''

After acquiring lefty Shawn Estes from San Francisco last month, the Mets had an excess of left-handed starters. They also signed free agent Pedro Astacio, a right-hander, last week. Bruce Chen probably will move to the bullpen to make room for D'Amico in the rotation.

Rusch went 8-12 with a 4.63 ERA last season and joins a Milwaukee rotation that probably will include Ben Sheets, Jamey Wright and Ruben Quevedo.

``He has quality stuff, and we feel as though he's going to be a tremendous acquisition for us,'' Brewers manager Davey Lopes said.

Ochoa hit .276 with eight homers, 52 RBIs and 17 steals last season for Cincinnati and Colorado. Harris has the most pinch hits in baseball history, breaking Manny Mota's record with his 151st on the last weekend of the season.

The Brewers wanted to shed the free-swinging Burnitz, who will make $6.5 million this season and $11.5 million in 2003. The Brewers became the first team to finish a season with more strikeouts _ an all-time record 1,399 _ than hits _ 1,378.

``Obviously we've lost some home runs in this deal,'' Taylor said. ``But if you looked at this ballclub last year, home runs were not an issue. What we lacked was speed and contact hitters.''

Zeile fills the hole at third created when the Rockies dealt Jeff Cirillo to Seattle. Zeile played first base in his two seasons for the Mets, but Colorado has All-Star Todd Helton there.

``He's looking forward to moving back to third base,'' O'Dowd said. ``He has no qualms, no reservations about it.''

Zeile hit .266 with 10 homers and 62 RBIs last season. He had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in November, but is expected to be ready for spring training.