Cardinals Trade Gant to Phillies
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Ron Gant, whose power and speed helped the Atlanta Braves build an NL dynasty, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday in a five-player deal that sent reliever Ricky Bottalico to St. Louis.
The Cardinals, who facilitated the deal by agreeing to pay about half of Gant’s salary, also get right-hander Garrett Stephenson.
Reliever Jeff Brantley and starter Cliff Politte go to the Phillies, who hope Gant still has enough power to protect Scott Rolen in the lineup.
``We think that in our ballpark and in our lineup, he’s a guy who can give us 30-plus homers,″ Phillies general manager Ed Wade said. ``He’s still a guy who can turn on a fastball and produce a lot of runs for us.″
As part of the deal, St. Louis will pay more than $5 million of the $11 million Gant is due in the last two years of his contract.
``We had to look at it and determine if it was worth it to take on that salary,″ Wade said. ``Fortunately, the Cardinals were willing to take on a significant amount.″
The Cardinals, guarding against the possible departure of free agent Brian Jordan, also signed outfielder Eric Davis to an $8 million, two-year contract and left-handed reliever Scott Radinsky to a $5.5 million, two-year deal.
For the Phillies, the irony of the trade is that J.D. Drew will replace Gant as the Cardinals’ left fielder. Drew was the Phillies No. 1 draft pick in 1997, but he refused to sign with them. It also signaled that prospect Wendell Magee will have to wait longer for a chance to play.
``We’ve talked a lot about left field,″ Wade said. ``If we had not gotten a power guy, we were comfortable going forward giving Wendell an opportunity to be the left fielder.″
Gant, who will be 34 next season, hit .240 with 26 homers and 67 RBIs in 383 at-bats last year after a .229 season with 17 homers in 1997. He was Atlanta’s premier right-handed power hitter when the Braves began a run of seven straight division titles and four NL pennants in the ’90s.
But he’s hit 30 homers only once since leaving Atlanta _ in 1996, his first year with the Cardinals. The Braves released him in 1994 after Gant broke his leg in a dirt-bike accident _ one week after he signed a $5.5 million, one-year contract that wasn’t guaranteed.
``He thinks he can get 500 at-bats and hit 30 homers, and maybe take them to the next level,″ said Gant’s agent, Bean Stringfellow. ``Ronnie seemed to be genuinely excited about it.″
Gant played only 121 games last season, primarily because of a nagging right hamstring injury. Though Stringfellow said Gant was happy about the trade, Wade said his new left fielder hadn’t returned his phone calls.
Bottalico, 29, finished strong last season as Philadelphia’s closer after missing two months following elbow surgery. Bottalico, who had six saves after back-to-back seasons with 34, made $2.2 million last season and is eligible for salary arbitration.
``We feel that we have obtained one of the league’s top young closers,″ Cardinals GM Wayne Jocketty said. ``And Stephenson is a versatile pitcher who could help us as either a starter or reliever.″
Stephenson was acquired from Baltimore for Pete Incaviglia and Todd Zeile in 1996. He fell out of favor with the Phillies when he filed a grievance over how an injury was handled last season.
``I don’t think there’s any question Garrett wore out his welcome here,″ Wade said.
The Phillies will make the veteran Brantley their closer until Wayne Gomes is ready to assume the role. Brantley was 0-5 with a 4.44 ERA and 14 saves last season. He had 44 saves in 1996, but hurt his shoulder early in ’97.
``We talked to the doctors, and we’ve been given assurances that he’s fine,″ Wade said.
Politte began last season as the Cardinals’ No. 2 starter after being voted the organization’s minor league player of the year in 1997. He pitched well in his debut in the second game of the year, but finished 2-3 with a 6.32 ERA in eight starts.