Indians deal Alomar to Mets as winter meetings heat up

Wednesday, December 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ In a twist to this year's winter meetings, trades have overtaken free-agent signings as the big newsmakers.

The biggest deal of all was made by the New York Mets, who acquired All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar from Cleveland in an eight-player trade.

After a slow first two days, activity intensified Tuesday, with four deals involving 19 players and the first free-agent signing at the meetings _ a $9 million, three-year contract between pitcher Jay Powell and Texas.

At last year's meetings in Dallas, there was only one significant trade, but $739.2 million in free-agent contracts.

This year, Barry Bonds, Juan Gonzalez, Bret Boone and Chan Ho Park are still waiting for the megabucks deals that characterized winter meetings in recent years.

``There seem to be a number of three-way deals going on,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. ``It seems like there's far more action on the trade front than normal.''

Alomar has been by far the most prominent player to switch teams this week. The 12-time All-Star was sent to New York with left-hander Mike Bacsik and outfielder Danny Peoples for outfielders Matt Lawton and Alex Escobar, right-hander Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named.

One of the players to be named is lefty Billy Traber, New York's first-round pick in 2000, according to a team official who spoke on condition he not be identified.

``Even as late as midafternoon yesterday, I thought it was a long shot,'' Phillips said.

Cleveland, which has won six of the last seven AL Central titles, is looking to retool and wanted to get younger.

``I know this trade won't be immediately embraced,'' new general manager Mark Shapiro said after making his first deal. ``I think I'll need a flak jacket when I get off the plane, probably.''

It was the second major move in the last week for the Mets, who dealt third baseman Robin Ventura to the Yankees on Friday for outfielder David Justice.

Alomar, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, will join with shortstop Rey Ordonez to form an acrobatic middle-infield duo.

``He's probably one of the top 10 ballplayers in the game,'' Braves manager Bobby Cox said. ``That's a great deal for the Mets. I'd rather see him in the other league. It's probably going to be the best infield defense in baseball.''

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

Alomar hit a team-high .336 this year with 20 homers, 100 RBIs and 30 steals. He gets $8 million next season, and his contract contains an $8 million team option for 2003.

Lawton, 30, was acquired by the Mets from Minnesota for pitcher Rick Reed in July. He combined to hit .277, with 13 homers and 64 RBIs last season.

Escobar, 23, was among the most prized prospects in the Mets' farm system, but he struggled last season, striking out 146 times in 397 at-bats at Triple-A Norfolk.

``His strikeouts are a concern, but his talent has never faded,'' Shapiro said. ``We spent a great deal of time following him closely this season and we still felt he had the total package.''

The Yankees, meanwhile, moved forward with Jason Giambi. The first baseman, closing in on a seven-year contract approaching $120 million, took a physical for the Yankees in Tampa, Fla., according to a lawyer familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In other trades:

_ Seattle dealt right-hander Brett Tomko, catcher Tom Lampkin, shortstop Ramon Vazquez and cash to San Diego for catcher Ben Davis, shortstop Alex Arias and right-hander Wascar Serrano.

_ Cincinnati sent outfielder Dmitri Young to Detroit for outfielder Juan Encarnacion and right-hander Luis Pineda.

_ Florida gave left-hander Jesus Sanchez to the Chicago Cubs for minor league left-hander Nate Teut, the first trade by the Marlins since Aug. 6, before owner John Henry began talks to sell his team.

Two players eligible for salary arbitration agreed to contracts with their teams. Closer Keith Foulke got a $10 million, two-year contract from the Chicago White Sox and catcher Raul Casanova received an $850,000, one-year deal from Milwaukee.

Dan Wilson, Seattle's top catcher, is eligible to become a free agent after next season. Davis, 24, was the second pick in the 1995 amateur draft. He hit .239 last season with 11 homers and 57 RBIs.

``He's got a good arm,'' Mariners manager Lou Piniella said. ``He's a switch-hitter. He's got a good frame.''

The deal could have a pinwheel effect on much of San Diego's lineup.

Padres general manager Kevin Towers said Vazquez, 25, could become his starting shortstop, with D'Angelo Jimenez moving to second, Phil Nevin shifting from third to first, Ryan Klesko moving from first to right field and Pacific Coast League rookie of the year Sean Burroughs starting at third.