Pitching Probables
Injuries: AL | NL
Minor Leagues
MLB en espanol
Message Board

News Wire
Daily Glance
Power Alley
MLB Insider

Jim Caple
Peter Gammons
Rob Neyer
John Sickels
Jayson Stark
ESPN Auctions
Wednesday, March 27
Updated: March 28, 4:52 PM ET
Cubs get closer Alfonseca in 6-player deal with Marlins news services

Wed., March 27
This is an excellent deal for the Cubs, but it's excellent only if Antonio Alfonseca's health problems from this spring are over. When he's healthy, Alfonseca is an above-average closer, but he doesn't strike people out the way the rest of the Cubs' bullpen can. Matt Clement has a tremendous arm, but he hasn't achieved all he could in the major leagues. Maybe yet another new team will take Clement to the next level.

This deal is definitely an attempt by the Cubs organization to ensure that they win now -- which is exactly what Andy McPhail and company should be doing. The Cubs legitimately have the talent to win this year -- this deal brings them one step closer, assuming Alfonseca stays healthy and they can get the best out of Clement.

MELBOURNE, Fla. -- The Chicago Cubs got a much-needed closer in Antonio Alfonseca. The Florida Marlins got some much-wanted payroll flexibility.

The Cubs, desperate for a relief ace with Tom Gordon injured, acquired Alfonseca and pitcher Matt Clement from the Marlins in a six-player trade Wednesday.

Florida got pitcher Julian Tavarez and three minor leaguers -- pitchers Jose Cueto and Dontrelle Willis and catcher Ryan Jorgensen.

Alfonseca, who will make $3.55 million this season, led the majors with 45 saves in 2000. He had 28 saves and a career-best 3.06 ERA last season despite pitching with back pain much of the season.

"Alfonseca is a proven guy in the ninth inning," said Jim Hendry, the Cubs' vice president of player personnel. "It's just a chance to add a quality person late in the game."

While Alfonseca left camp without extensive comment -- "I've got nothing to say" -- Clement cleaned out his locker, then aired out his feelings about the Marlins.

The trade made little sense to Clement, and it may have signaled the start of another payroll purge for the floundering Marlins.

The team says it needs a new ballpark to increase revenue and be able to keep the young and talented team intact. New owner Jeffrey Loria says he is committed to making baseball work in South Florida, but the trade seemed to indicate otherwise.

"You wouldn't think a team that's 29th in salary would be trimming payroll, but obviously that's their motive," said Clement, who will make $2.5 million this season. "I don't have too much to say, but as a whole I'm not very impressed with the Marlins organization. I'm very impressed with the new staff, but I can't say anything good about the organization from the top other than I got to play with a lot of good teammates and friends.

"It doesn't take me to spell it out. It looks to me like it's a matter of time before the rest of the boys start going right along with me."

Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest refused to discuss the payroll move, other than to say it gave the team flexibility for the future.

Of course, this is the same franchise that won the 1997 World Series, then dismantled the talent-laden lineup by unloading Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, Robb Nen, Livan Hernandez, Moises Alou, Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson, Edgar Renteria and others.

Is it happening again?

"This was something we did on the baseball side. I would let you editorialize that as you want," Beinfest said. "You can call it whatever you want, certainly it did allow for some payroll flexibility. It was a move we thought we wanted to make and we made it."

Loria adamantly defended the move, which leaves the Marlins payroll slightly over $40 million for this season.

"This is not the beginning of anything," Loria told The Palm Beach Post. "This is a tweaking that had to be done. I wouldn't be here if that wasn't the case. You can take that to the bank."

The deal made perfect sense for the Cubs. They have been looking for a closer since March 5, when Gordon tore a muscle in his shoulder. Though Gordon said last week he hoped to be back as early as May, he's not expected back for at least three months, possibly longer.

Chicago tried to lure Jeff Shaw out of retirement, but couldn't come to an agreement. Splitting closer duties between Jeff Fassero and the hard-throwing Kyle Farnsworth was another option, but Farnsworth is just 3-of-9 in career save situations.

Alfonseca had surgery in October to repair a bulging disc in his back, but Hendry said there don't appear to be any lingering effects from it. The Cubs have watched Alfonseca pitch in his last four outings and he looks good, Hendry said.

"He seems to be ready to go," Hendry said. "He's showing no sign of restriction. He's nice and loose, his arm action is good."

The move reunites Alfonseca with Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who had the same role for the Marlins in 1997.

Clement will replace Tavarez as the fifth starter in the Cubs rotation. In three-plus seasons with San Diego and Florida, he's 34-39 with a 4.89 ERA.

A reliever for most of his career, Tavarez moved into Colorado's starting rotation in the second half of 2000. He signed a two-year deal with the Cubs with the expectation he'd be a starter.

"He did an awfully good job for us as a starter," Hendry said. "He's been a quality setup guy in the past. He's a rare guy. He can throw every day, so you can use him in any role you want and he's always done a good job."

But when the Cubs floated the idea of moving him to the bullpen -- either at the start of the season or if Mark Prior comes up -- Tavarez balked.

"They had two choices, let me start or trade me," said Tavarez, who will make $2,725,000 in the final year of his contract. "I waited until the end of the month ... and I felt like it was for sure I was going to be the No. 5 starter. I guess I was wrong about that."

Tavarez will be take Clement's spot as the No. 4 starter for the Marlins, joining a young and skillful rotation.

The question now remains: for how long?

"They have a lot of quality arms," Clement said of the Marlins. "But who knows how many of the arms will be able to hang around here if they don't get a new stadium. It's a numbers game. I had a big payroll in a bad market."

 More from ESPN...
Report: Alfonseca hid from Marlins trainer
An incident during which ...

Chicago Cubs season preview

Florida Marlins season preview

2002 MLB preview has complete ...

 ESPN Tools
Email story
Most sent
Print story
Daily email