Baseball's winter shuffle

It is considered bad form among major league baseball owners when the press fails to wax eloquent over the winter acquisition of new players, whether by trades or via the free-agent market.

Always in the owner's mind, as a result of those deals, a hole has been plugged; a team strengthened; the future made more attractive. And the cow jumped over the moon!

The fact is, most transactions, unless they include someone with the qualities of Joe DiMaggio for cash, take at least a year to evaluate - and often the wait is considerably longer.

For example, last season outfielder Dave Winfield (after coming over from the San Diego Padres) was not a million-dol ar player for the New York Yankees, even though his paycheck said he was.

But if Winfield were suddenly to become baseball's dominating power hitter over the next five years, his first season with New York would probably be largely forgotten.

Since the end of October, when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Yankees in a six-game World Series, some 35 major leaguers have changed uniforms, and undoubtedly more will follow.

Trying to establish who gotthe best of these swaps is like buying a watch in an alley from a guy with a mock Swiss accent. But whether George Steinbrenner is your favorite boat builder or not, the Yankee owner knows class when he sees it and also has the fastest checkbook in either league.

Since December, Steinbrenner has added Ken Griffey and Dave Collins of the Cincinnati Reds to a New York outfield already crowded with Winfield, Jerry Mumphrey, Lou Piniella, and Oscar Gamble. And that list doesn't even include Reggie Jackson, who is still a free agent and could conceivably be re-signed by the Yankees.

Part of the logjam could be relieved by having Collins play first base more or less permanently, with occasional rest periods provided by Piniella or others. Griffey, by the way, hit .311 for the Reds last season and led the team in runs scored, while Collins stole 26 bases.

Even though the Dodgers haven't added any potential infield regulars since the World Series, they did increase their bench strength by signing free-agent shortstop Mark Belanger and trading for left-handed-hitting George Orta, who has a chance to become a starter in right field.

Belanger, who is one of the game's great glovemen, will back up Bill Russell. Orta is considered a specialist when it comes to hitting line drives up the outfield alleys.

After losing both Griffey and Collins, Cincinnati went out and traded third baseman Ray Knight to the Houson Astros for centerfielder Cesar Cedeno and later added outfielder Clint Hurdle from the Kansas City Royals.

With the Reds trying to create a spot in their lineup for Johnny Bench, who doesn't want to catch anymore, Knight suddenly became expendable. In fact, if Cincinnati's young pitching staff continues to improve, both the Dodgers and Astros are going to have trouble staying with the Reds this season in the NL West.

The Chicago Cubs, who had the worst overall record of any team in baseball in 1981, have already added a new general manager in former Philadelphia pilot Dallas Green, a new manager in Lee Elia, who was Green's third base coach in Philly, and a number of new players. The latter include pitchers Raphael Pimental, Allen Ripley, Dick Noles, Dan Larson, Bill Campbell, and Ferguson Jenkins, plus infielder Junior Kennedy and catcher Keith Moreland.

Trade traffic has also been heavy in Cleveland, where the Indians have acquired Ed Whitson, Lary Sorenson, Silvio Martinez, and Rick Sutcliffe, plus second baseman Jack Perconte and infielder-outfielder Rich Murray.

To keep the National League record straight, the Phillies have added catcher Bo Diaz and pitcher Mike Krukow; the Cards, outfielder Lonnie Smith and pitcher Steve Mura; the Padres, outfielder Sixto Lezcano; and the Giants, second baseman Duane Kuiper and pitcher Rich Gale.

In the American League, Detroit has added outfielder Chet Lemon and Larry Herndon; the Angels, catcher Bob Boone and infielder Tim Foli; the White Sox, outfielders Steve Kemp and Tom Paciorek; and the A's, outfielder Joe Rudi and infielder Dan Meyer.

This by no means completes the list of trades and free-agent signings since the end of last season, but it does cover most of the familiar names who have changed uniforms.

Then there are the rumors: Padres shortstop Ozzie Smith to the Cards for shortstop Garry Templeton; Pirates outfielder Dave Parker to the Phillies for a starting pitcher; and Reds outfielder George Foster to the Mets for two players.

The only thing I know for sure about all this is that every general manager involved thinks he made a good trade. That is, until his new infielder lets the ball roll up his arm; the pitcher he acquired keeps throwing the ball in the dirt; and his $1 million power hitter strikes out with the bases loaded.

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