ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The 89th winter meetings were on the way to becoming little more than a free-agent festival when the San Diego Padres and Toronto Blue Jays proved yesterday that the art of the deal was not a lost art, after all.
The wild free-agent bidding paused just long enough for those teams to announce one of the biggest deals of the past decade. The Padres sent outfielder Joe Carter and All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar to the Blue Jays for 1989 home-run champion Fred McGriff and four-time Gold Glove shortstop Tony Fernandez.
It was the second major trade of the meetings for the Blue Jays, who acquired center fielder Devon White from the California Angels in a six-player swap, but this one took the convention by surprise. The fifth day of the meetings had opened with a deal in which the San Francisco Giants sent reliever Steve Bedrosian to the Minnesota Twins for pitching prospect Johnny Ard and another player, but that was nothing compared with what would follow.
"We wanted to give you a good, old-fashioned baseball trade -- value for value," said Padres general manager Joe McIlvaine. "We just felt it was something we wanted to give a shot to. It was kind of a gutsy trade on both ends."
The Padres gave up one of the most promising young players in baseball (Alomar) and an outfielder (Carter) who has driven in more than 100 runs in four of the past five years.
The Blue Jays might have given up even more. Fernandez is considered by some to be the best all-around shortstop in the game, and McGriff has hit 125 home runs in his first four major-league seasons.
Toronto general manager Pat Gillick appears to be working on baseball's biggest chemistry experiment. He is revamping a team that has been considered a perennial underachiever, but he appears to be sacrificing a lot of run production in the process.
"We feel that we have another first baseman in John Olerud, who is a natural first baseman," Gillick said. "We also filled another hole, with the apparent departure of George Bell."
Bell is expected to sign with another club soon, which would appear to send the Blue Jays into the 1991 season with significantly less scoring potential than they had last season. No one would say so, but it appears Gillick was willing to sacrifice that to improve the overall personality of the club.
"It balances out the club a little better and gives us a little better defense," Gillick said, "but, on the other hand, it is very difficult to give up a Tony Fernandez and a Fred McGriff."
Manager Cito Gaston said Carter would play right field for the Blue Jays and veteran second baseman Manny Lee would replace Fernandez at shortstop.
"This gives us a chance to play John Olerud every day at first," Gaston said, "and we weren't sure that George [Bell] was coming back, so we wanted to get Carter to give us back those RBIs."
The trade had to reverberate through the rest of the American League East, where every division contender except the Baltimore Orioles has made a significant trade or free-agent signing. The Blue Jays have been the most active, pulling off the two trades, as well as signing free-agent pitcher Ken Dayley and free-agent infielder Pat Tabler, but the potential loss of Bell leaves room to wonder whether they are a stronger team than before.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond wouldn't rate the deal, but said he was impressed with the sheer magnitude of it.
"My first reaction was 'wow,' " Hemond said. "This is what we used to be accustomed to at the winter meetings. It's a good message to everybody that you shouldn't come here thinking you can't make a deal like that."
Who went where
San Diego Padres-Toronto Blue Jays: Padres' OF Joe Carter and 2B Roberto Alomar traded for Blue Jays' 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez.
San Francisco Giants-Minnesota Twins: Giants' P Steve Bedrosian traded for Twins' P Johnny Ard and a player to be named.
American League Boston: Signed P Matt Young (3 years, $6.35 million).
Detroit: Signed OF Rob Deer (3 years, $6.05 million). Re-signed OF John Shelby (1 year, $525,000).
Kansas City: Signed P Mike Boddicker (3 years, $9.25 million), OF Kirk Gibson (2 years, $3.4 million), P Dan Schatzeder (1 year, $700,000).
Milwaukee: Signed 1B-OF Franklin Stubbs (3 years, $6 million), P Edwin Nunez (2 years, $1.9 million).
New York: Signed P Steve Farr (3 years, $6.3 million). Re-signed P Tim Leary (3 years, $5.95 million).
Oakland: Re-signed C Jamie Quirk (1 year, $1 million). Signed OF Willie Wilson (2 years, $2 million).
Toronto: Signed P Ken Dayley (3 years, $6.3 million), IF Pat Tabler (2 years, $1.6 million). Re-signed 3B Rance Mulliniks (2 years, $1.5 million).
National League Atlanta: Signed 3B Terry Pendleton (4 years, $10.2 million), 1B Sid Bream (3 years, $5 million).
Chicago: Signed P Danny Jackson (4 years, $10.5 million).
Cincinnati: Re-signed P Tom Browning (4 year, $12,483,333). Re-signed 2B Bill Doran (3 years, $7.3 million).
Los Angeles: Signed OF Darryl Strawberry (5 years, $20.25 million), P Kevin Gross (3 years, $6.4 million).
New York: Signed OF Vince Coleman (4 years, $11.95 million).
San Francisco: Signed P Bud Black (4 year, $10 million), OF Willie McGee (4 years, $13 million), P Dave Righetti (4 years, $10 million).