Philadelphia Inquirer - December 9, 1980
Phillies, Brewers talk trade
Lezcano, Lerch, Noles discussed by teams
By Jayson Stark, Inquirer Staff Writer
DALLAS – Paul Owens' biggest trade at baseball's 1979 winter meetings was the earth-shaking exchange of Pete Mackanin for Paul Thormodsgard. No wonder that when the week was over, Owens shook his head and moaned that baseball was just no fun anymore.
Ah, but 1980's meetings look more like the Pope's style. Before Bowie Kuhn could even reach the podium to open baseball's annual blabathon yesterday morning, 14 players already had changed teams. And Owens was hot to make that 19 in a hurry.
Owens, Dallas Green and their scouts had a long talk with the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday afternoon. And they came out of it with a five-player deal more than half-formulated.
The Phillies' chief acquisition would be righthanded-hitting outfielder Sixto Lezcano. They also would get one other player, as yet undetermined. In return, the pitch-ing-famished Brewers would receive Randy Lerch, Dickie Noles and one other player, also undecided upon.
Green indicated the Phillies would like to wrap up the deal quickly, because a trade for Lezcano almost certainly would mean the unloading of Greg Luzinski for a starting pitcher. And the Phillies would like to have as much interleague trading time as possible to explore those options before Friday's midnight (CDT) deadline.
Green said the Lezcano and Luzinski deals are "not contingent" upon one another. But he said getting Lezcano "would probably allow us to do that (trade the Bull) more comfortably."
Lezcano is only 27, might be the best defensive rightfielder in the American League and two years ago hit .321 for Milwaukee with 28 homers and 101 RBIs. He is expendable because 1) he is coming off his worst season ever (.229, 18 homers, 55 RBIs) and 2) the Brewers need pitching like George Steinbrenner needs a fan club.
But the Phillies are so undaunted by Lezcano's lousy 1980 numbers, they even told the Brewers they would rather have Lezcano than 38-homer man Gorman Thomas.
"Sixto's the type of guy who, when he tries to hit home runs, is not going to hit for average," said Phillies farm director Jim Baumer, a former Brewers general manager. "And that's what he did this year.
"He hit three or four the first week, and now all of a sudden he thinks he's gonna hit 60. So he starts swinging for homers, and that's the worst thing he could do. In August, he started trying to get base hits again, and he straightened himself out."
Defensively, said Baumer, Lezcano plays balls down the rightfield line "better than anybody. Balls that look like they're gonna be doubles, he'll throw the guy out."
The question if the Phillies get him, of course, is what they will do with all their outfielders. Owens hinted Bake McBride would wind up playing a lot of left field if the Phils obtain Lezcano. McBride also could play right against righthanded pitching, with Lonnie Smith taking the remaining time in left.
The Astros and Giants also are in the Lezcano hunt. But because Milwaukee seemed to be particularly enamored of Lerch and Noles, the Phillies appeared to have the inside track.
Owens said clubs have shown "super interest" in Lerch, and not just the Brewers. Lerch may have been 4-14 this year, but Green said people still look at him and see a great left arm. "And people in baseball always think they can handle somebody that somebody else couldn't handle," the manager said.
A number of names were thrown around as possible fourth and fifth players in the deal. The Phillies probably will get to choose one from a list including righthanded-hitting outfielder Dick Davis (.271, 4 homers, 30 RBIs), righthanded reliever Paul Mitchell (5-5, 3.54) and righthanded pitcher Reggie Cleveland ( 1 1-9, 3.74).
The Brewers' choice probably will be either Ron Reed or this year's shortstop at Reading, Ryne Sandberg (.310, 32 stolen bases).
Meanwhile, Owens is still after free-agent pitcher Stan Bahnsen, who would replace Reed and Noles as the prime righthander in the bullpen.
"When we get done this week, I'll tell you whether we're gonna sign Bahnsen or not," the Pope said.
Elsewhere on the free-agent front, however, Owens is annoyed by Del Unser's refusal to respond to his initial contract offer, estimated at two years, $200,000 per.
"I haven't heard back from him, and if he doesn't want to play for me, bleep him," Owens said. "I respect what the man did for me. But if you break down the man's year, he really didn't do anything for me until September.
"He had five key hits, he was a big hero, I know. But he didn't hit me one home run. The year before he hit me four home runs. I've offered him two years, and if he doesn't like that, bleep him."
Maybe this was just harsh bargaining talk. But the free agent Owens drafted as Unser's potential replacement, Boston's Jim Dwyer, is still so hopeful of playing in Philadelphia he has told other teams he won't sign until the Phillies make a decision on Unser.
So on a day when the Cardinals got Rollie Fingers, the Astros picked up their eighth starting pitcher and trade fever reigned anew, Paul Owens was playing winter baseball his way again. So hang on – the week has only just begun.
Earlier in the day, the Phillies lost four prospects in the annual major league draft. The most noteworthy was Jim Wright, the organization's golden arm as recently as two seasons ago. But the other three – left-handed pitcher Carlos Arroyo (taken by the White Sox) and outfielders Jorge Bell (Toronto) and Orlando Sanchez (St. Louis) – also have a chance to be decent big-league players.
Wright, 2S, was chosen by Kansas City. It is no coincidence that the Royals now employ former Phillies minor-league pitching coach Billy Connors and former Phils farm director Howie Bedell.
Owens said the Phillies felt Wright needed another season to regain all the arm strength he had before his sad chain of injuries began in August 1977. But he was out of options, so the Phils felt this was the year to gamble on not protecting him. If he doesn't make the Royals next spring, Kansas City must offer him back to the Phillies for $12,500.
The guy the Phils were most upset about losing was Bell, 21, who has hit .300 in each of his three minor-league seasons.