Major league baseball hit a solid 7 on the Richter scale last week with three trades involving four big-name stars, creating almost as much stir as if Johnny Carson had decided to switch networks.
Slugger George Foster moved from the Cincinnati Reds to the New York Mets and veteran second baseman Davey Lopes went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Oakland A's, while the San Diego Padres and the St. Louis Cardinals swapped two of the game's top shortstops. In exchange for the Padres' Ozzie Smith, the Cards gave up Garry Templeton.
The Foster trade was perhaps the most eye-opening, because for the past six years George has been the most productive hitter in baseball, averaging 35 homers and 120 runs batted in per season. Foster will give the Mets gilt-edged protection in an area they haven't done well in for a long time - someone with power who can hit in back of Dave Kingman and in front of Ellis Valentine.
Now, with Foster waiting in the on-deck circle, whenever New York gets men on base, opposing managers won't be so apt to order their pitchers to work around Kingman. If this situation doesn't result in a lot more homers and RBIs for Kingman in 1982, someone in the Mets' front office is going to be awfully embarrassed.
To be sure that George can concentrate on his work and be free of financial worries, New York has made him baseball's second-highest-paid player (next to the Yankees' Dave Winfield), with a five-year contract reportedly worth $10 million when you add up all the complicated clauses.
What Cincinnati received in the Mets trade was this: a good defensive catcher in Alex Trevino (thus allowing Johnny Bench to move to third base); an experienced relief pitcher in Jim Kern; and a promising young starter in Greg Harris. Despite a 4.43 earned-run average last year with the Mets, Harris received extremely high marks from the Reds' scouting staff.
Although Foster was not due to become a free agent until after this season, Cincinnati had no intention of meeting his salary demands, which they considered excessive. This is also why the Reds, earlier this winter, allowed George's two outfield partners, Ken Griffey and Dave Collins, to sign big contracts with the Yankees.
For the Mets, who have been fighting attendance problems for several years, getting Foster is a chance for the new manager, George Bamberger, to showcase a big home-run talent in a city that has always thrived on the star system. For the Reds, it's a chance to rebuild in three places without having to play ''Break the Bank.''
The Lopes trade means that after nine consecutive years with the same infield teammates, a major league record, the Los Angeles Dodgers will open the 1982 campaign with at least one new face in the group.
The 35-year-old Lopes, who had the power to approve or reject the deal, could have chosen to go to spring training with the Dodgers and try to protect his starting job from the youthful talents of rookie Steve Sax.
Instead, Davey said he got the impression from things he'd observed, plus comments from teammates and friends, that L.A. had already made up its mind to go with Sax at second base. The idea of becoming a utility in- fielder for the Dodgers had no appeal for Lopes, who expects to be a regular in Oakland.
Whether Lopes judged the Dodgers' intentions correctly is mostly personal speculation at this point, but he is certainly right about Sax presenting a formidable challenge. After being called up from the minors in August to replace the injured Lopes, Steve hit well and fielded brilliantly.
Los Angeles, considering Lopes's age, .206 batting average, and lapses in the field, didn't seem reluctant to let him go.
If the enormously talented Templeton could have solved his personal problems as well as those with St. Louis General Manager Whitey Herzog, the Cardinals would never have traded him. Many observers believe Garry has the longest range of any shortstop in baseball - and as recently as 1979 he batted .314, stole 26 bases, and collected 211 hits.
But Herzog, who is building on a team concept and doesn't like to cater to individuals, was willing to trade Templeton when Smith became available. While Smith will never have Templeton's bat, Ozzie is nearly his equal in the field and is a boat-rocker only in the sense that he feels San Diego never paid him what he is worth.
Considering the size of the new contract the Cardinals are expected to give him, Smith's only problem should be finding a parking space isolated enough to protect a Rolls-Royce.