© St. Petersburg Times, published December 16, 2002
NASHVILLE -- All it took to break the ice at the winter meetings Sunday afternoon was a four-team trade that had been in the works, in some form, for years.
The completion of Oakland's lengthy quest for Arizona's Erubiel Durazo highlighted a deal that included Cincinnati and Toronto.
The A's have wanted the DH/1B because of his offensive ability, a combination of power and patience that fits their style, and A's general manager Billy Beane made no secret of his desire.
"It almost had become my Holy Grail," Beane said.
The Diamondbacks, after realizing they weren't going to be able to make a deal for one of Montreal's pitchers, acquired Elmer Dessens from the Reds to fill a spot in the middle of their rotation. The Reds got talented Felipe Lopez from Toronto to bolster their infield depth, but there was talk late Sunday they might include Lopez in a deal with Montreal. The Blue Jays will get a top minor-league pitching prospect from Oakland, believed to be Jason Arnold, and may end up with Florida State product John-Ford Griffin.
The meetings had been devoid of deals -- in part because of the number of teams in talks with the Expos -- until the trade.
As soon as that deal was announced, others were completed:
The Giants signed former All-Star infielder Edgardo Alfonzo to a four-year, $26-million contract, then said it still was possible they could re-sign Jeff Kent, though he claims to have an offer elsewhere.
The Expos continued talks with several teams about big-ticket pitchers Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez, with the Marlins and Reds apparently joining the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves in hot pursuit.
The Red Sox improved their offense by getting DH/1B Jeremy Giambi from Philadelphia for pitching prospect Josh Hancock.
The Cardinals bolstered their rotation by acquiring former Florida Southern pitcher Brett Tomko from San Diego for Luther Hackman and a minor-leaguer.
The Orioles, after losing out on Rey Ordonez to the Devil Rays, signed shortstop Deivi Cruz. ... The Pirates reached agreement with outfielder Matt Stairs.
PINIELLA PATROL: People throughout the game say they expect Lou Piniella to be successful in turning around the Rays.
But some of those who know him best admit it will be a little, um, interesting along the way.
"Lou says he's fine, he doesn't worry about losing," said Phillies manager Larry Bowa, a former Seattle coach. "But I was with him a year. We'll see in June."
A BRIDGE TOO FAR: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, a Tampa native, tried to be diplomatic when asked about the Rays' struggles, but it became clear he thinks the location of Tropicana Field is part of the problem.
"I'm from Tampa, and we wanted the ballpark built in Tampa," La Russa said. "That's probably my answer, and it's not a smart answer to give. If I was from St. Pete I wouldn't, but I'm from Tampa and we were all disappointed when the ballpark was built there. Would it make a difference? I don't know."
MISCELLANY: Veteran Dayton Daily News writer Hal McCoy was voted into the Hall of Fame, and received a congratulatory call from Ken Griffey Jr. ... Cleveland's Ellis Burks won the outstanding DH award.