Los Angeles — To a majority of fans, the winter baseball trade is still a cure-all for everything that was wrong with their favorite team the previous season. Never mind that the new player may have worn several other uniforms; this time is going to be different. Hidden skills will suddenly pop to the surface, tired arms will wax strong again, and a new supply of lumber will arrive from the Ponce de Leon Bat Company.
That's the Madison Avenue sizzle. The steak is often something else.
One thing we do know is that general managers everywhere are convinced that improving their pitching staffs is the answer to a winning season.
In the 10 major league trades made during the recent winter meetings in Dallas, 17 of the 24 players involved were pitchers. In addition, there were a couple of deals made before the meetings that also glorified the American throwing arm.
Big-name pitchers who will perform elsewhere this season include Bob Welch, Jesse Orosco, Lee Smith, Richard Dotson, and Dan Petry.
Welch, a starter for most of his 10 years in Los Angeles, and Orosco, a former standout reliever with the New York Mets, were part of a three-way deal involving these two teams and Oakland. The Dodgers got Orosco, plus shortstop Alfredo Griffin and reliever Jay Howell from the A's; Oakland obtained Welch and another ex-Dodger pitcher, Matt Young; and the Mets wound up with a trio of promising young pitchers - Jack Savage from L.A. and Wally Whitehurst and Kevin Tapani from the A's.
Welch, who was 15-9 with the Dodgers last season, is expected to follow 20-game winner Dave Stewart in Oakland's starting rotation. Earlier, the A's also moved to beef up their offense by trading for Cincinnati slugger Dave Parker, who hit 26 home runs in 1986. Parker, added to power hitters Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in the middle of the lineup, creates the potential for more than 100 homers and 300 runs batted in from just three players.
Griffin, who usually hits for average but not power, probably gives the Dodgers their best fielding shortstop since Pee Wee Reese. The arrival of Alfredo also means that either Mariano Duncan or Mike Sharperson will probably play second base, with incumbent Steve Sax becoming trade bait for a starting pitcher. L.A. has also signed free agent outfielder Mike Davis, who hit 10 home runs for Oakland before last season's All-Star break but just two after that because of injuries. And with Orosco and Howell available for relief - especially if the former can regain the form that helped the Mets to the world championship in 1986 - the Dodgers may have a reliable bullpen again for the first time since Steve Howe's heyday from 1980 to 1983.
The Mets were the only one of the three clubs not to wind up with a ``name'' player, but are looking toward the future with the three young hurlers they obtained. Furthermore, Orosco had fallen off after his spectacular '86 season, was no longer the bullpen ace, and was so unhappy in his reduced role that he had asked to be traded.
The Boston Red Sox, who had the fewest saves (16) of any team in baseball last season, immediately revived pennant talk when they sent starter Al Nipper and reliever Calvin Schiraldi to the Chicago Cubs for ace reliever Smith. The hard-throwing right-hander has saved 162 games in the last five seasons, including 36 this year. If he can continue to do the job out of the 'pen, and if Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst can continue providing the 1-2 starting punch they've given in the past, no one can afford to underestimate Boston.
Of course, no story about player trades would be complete without a reference to New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. As if bringing back Billy Martin to manage the team for a fifth time isn't enough, George has also traded with the White Sox for Dotson, the Mets for shortstop Rafael Santana, and the Rangers for catcher Don Slaught. There is also an underpowered rumor that the Yankees may still trade outfielder Dave Winfield to Detroit for Kirk Gibson; that is, if the Dodgers don't get to the Tigers first with Pedro Guerrero.
Both Cincinnati and Kansas City helped themselves with a trade involving four players. The Reds sent shortstop Kurt Stillwell and pitcher Ted Power to the Royals for pitcher Danny Jackson and shortstop Angel Salazar. Stillwell, who hit a decent .258 last season and has a glove that sparkles, has great potential. The Reds, who got exactly seven complete games from their starting staff last season, like to think that Jackson can reverse his 9-18 record and look more like the pitcher who won 14 games in 1985 and pitched so well for the Royals in their playoff and World Series victories.
The California Angels, who in recent years have approached free agents the way a mongoose circles a cobra, caused a mild surprise when they signed former San Francisco outfielder Chili Davis to a one-year contract. The Angels traded good-field, no-hit outfielder Gary Pettis to Detroit for Petry, who hasn't had a big year since his 18-8 performance in the Tigers' world championship year of 1984, and who was only 9-7 last season with a division-winning ball club. Petry, whose questionable arm has been offered a part in ``I Love a Mystery,'' should feel right at home with the Angels' Kirk McCaskill and Donnie Moore.
Please understand that not every trade or deal made since the end of last season is mentioned in this story. Those like the one where Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan sent his son Marc, a .169-hitting catcher, to the Houston Astros for a player to be named later, have for the most part been studiously avoided!