What to do? A's Red-emption could include Canseco trade

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Orioles decide not to renew pitcher Joe Price's contract; interest expressed in Von Hayes, Mike Greenwell. Page E10.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland A's were a team designed to withstand the baseball equivalent of an earthquake. But twice in three years they've crumbled under the force of a World Series tremor. At what point do you fault the construction?


That question might sound unduly harsh for a team that has won three straight American League championships, but the A's goal this season was a second straight World Series title. It was not just a mission, but an obsession. And now six months work is undone in one week.

To a man, the A's still insist they're the best team in baseball. But their brash words rang hollow Saturday night once the Series was over, once the Cincinnati Reds had completed their utterly convincing four-game sweep with a 2-1 comeback victory at the Oakland Coliseum.


The rapid turn of events reinforced the old notion that anything can happen in a short series, and most of the A's agreed with third baseman Carney Lansford, who said "nothing" could detract from the club's 103 regular-season victories and four-game playoff sweep of Boston.

Lansford's argument is not without merit, but it's a loser's argument, and A's general manager Sandy Alderson doesn't buy it. Alderson is the architect of this dynasty turned dinosaur. Asked how much the Series upset deflated his sense of personal triumph, he replied, "Quite a bit."

"From our perspective, we know that there are 26 teams, and 25 go home unhappy -- even the loser of the World Series," said Alderson, whose club was stunned by Los Angeles in five games in 1988. "But we've got to get over it. We've got to live with it for a while."

Not that Alderson and the rest of the Oakland front office will have much time to reflect. Baseball has evolved into a year-round business, and the A's will confront one issue after another this offseason, starting with their five potential free agents.

Of those, 27-game winner Bob Welch is clearly the top priority. Centerfielder Willie McGee would rank next, if the A's intend to sign him. Then comes 17-game winner Scott Sanderson, followed by two lefthanded-hitting catchers, Ron Hassey and Jamie Quirk.

Alderson is facing the prospect of a $30 million payroll next season (the Orioles' payroll this year was $7.9 million). The matter is of no small concern, and Alderson said the club must project the 1991 team chemistry when plotting its offseason course.

Chemistry is an interesting subject when it comes to the A's, for only one player is considered a truly disruptive force -- rightfielder Jose Canseco. Alderson, in classic understatement, said during the Series that the club's relations with Canseco were "a little strained."

Manager Tony La Russa and pitcher Dave Stewart sharply criticized Canseco after he misplayed Billy Hatcher's eighth-inning triple in Game 2. Then La Russa used him only as a pinch hitter in Game 4, citing hand and back injuries that had hampered Canseco the entire postseason.


Alderson said he was "not at all" dissatisfied with the team chemistry. Yet, he added, "It changes. It changes in response to events. This was an event not anticipated by most of us. It's something we have to internalize and assess."

Would the A's trade the 26-year-old Canseco? That likely will be the burning question of the offseason, and given all that has transpired, the notion might not be as preposterous as it sounds. In fact, it might even make sense.

Stewart's biggest complaint is that Canseco lacks maturity. His inability to stay healthy is probably of equal concern to the club. Canseco averaged 158 games his first three seasons, but played only 65 in '89 and 131 this year. Back surgery is not out of the question.

Then there's the money.

Last year the A's addressed growing payroll problems by choosing not to re-sign three free agents -- pitcher Storm Davis, infielder Tony Phillips and designated hitter Dave Parker. Trading Canseco would have an even greater impact, eliminating $23.5 million in salary over the next five years.

Who would take him? Only a team with large-market resources, a team with enough depth to give the A's equal value in return. Maybe the New York Mets, if they fail to re-sign their own rightfielder, Darryl Strawberry. Or maybe the Dodgers, if they fail to woo Strawberry themselves.


The Mets, in particular, are an intriguing possibility, for they could trade Oakland a starter (Sid Fernandez or David Cone) as well as a second baseman (Gregg Jefferies). The World Series showed the A's might not be as deep as previously believed in both areas.

They have several top pitching prospects a year or two away, including the prize of this year's draft, Todd Van Poppel. But desperate for a win in Game 3, they turned to Mike Moore, an enigma all season. He responded with 2 2/3 dismal innings -- only to be replaced by an equally dismal Sanderson.

The loss of shortstop Walt Weiss with a strained left knee had a similar impact. The A's were left with Mike Gallego at short and Willie Randolph at second. Glenn Braggs beat out two grounders for critical RBIs in the Series, both on double plays Weiss might have turned.

Gallego and Randolph split time at second this season, but Gallego is probably more useful as a utility player and Randolph is 36. The A's would need more offense at the position if they traded Canseco, who produced 37 homers and 101 RBIs even in an injury-plagued season.

On the other hand, Canseco (3-for-23, .130 in the postseason) might not be that difficult to replace, assuming the A's re-sign McGee, the NL batting champion. That would give them a starting outfield of McGee and the two Hendersons, Rickey and Dave. Each will be 32 next Opening Day.

Such talk, of course, obscures the fact that Canseco was not the A's only disappointment. Scouts regard catcher as the club's weakest overall position, and no one clamors that first baseman Mark McGwire went 5-for-27 (.185) in the postseason with no extra-base hits and two RBIs.


It also obscures the fact that this is still the best team of its era. As La Russa said, "There aren't a whole lot of changes that need to be done to this club."

Stewart agreed. "Do something?" he asked. "Like what? We'll just keep getting better, if that's possible."

Alderson, however, is not the type to rest comfortably -- he's the guy who traded for McGee and Harold Baines on Aug. 29, with the A's leading by 6 1/2 games. It was thought he left nothing to chance. But in baseball, that's impossible.

"You don't control the game," Alderson said.

You just do what you can, and hope for the best.