Braves retool again; Yankees send Irabu to Montreal

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The Independent Online

Instead of focusing on free agents, teams are pulling off trades as they head into the holiday break.

Instead of focusing on free agents, teams are pulling off trades as they head into the holiday break.

Remolding their roster yet again, the Atlanta Braves dealt second baseman Bret Boone, outfielder-first baseman Ryan Klesko and minor league right-hander Jason Shiell to the Padres for first baseman Wally Joyner, second baseman Quilvio Veras and left fielder Reggie Sanders.

The World Series champion New York Yankees, who swept the Braves in October, sent pitcher Hideki Irabu to the Montreal Expos for three prospects.

Atlanta, which has won eight straight division titles, but only one World Series in the 1990s, gains both a leadoff hitter and an outfielder to make up for the loss of Gerald Williams, who signed with Tampa Bay.

Joyner becomes insurance in case first baseman Andres Galarraga is not at full strength after an 18-month layoff during his treatment for cancer.

"We're all very hopeful Andres will come back and assume full duty at first base," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "That is still somewhat an unknown set of circumstances. Wally Joyner, prior to 1999 before he suffered the shoulder injury, put up very, very good numbers offensively, and of course is regarded as one of the finest first baseman defensively around."

Klesko and Boone combined for 41 homers last year, while Joyner and the switch-hitting Veras combined for just 11. Veras had career-highs with a .280 average and 95 runs scored, and his on-base percentage of .368 was 58 points higher than Boone's. Klesko's slugging percentage was .532 compared to Joyner's .350.

"We've gotte of a speed club to probably a club that's more of a power-type club."

Irabu, 11-7 with a 4.84 ERA in 27 starts and five relief appearances this year, waived his no-trade clause, allowing the Yankees to deal him to Montreal for minor league right-hander Jake Westbrook and two players to be named. The deal lowers New York's payroll to $66 million for 14 signed players.

The 30-year-old right-hander, called a "fat ... toad" by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner last spring, wore out the patience of Yankees officials. While pitching well in stretches, he was inconsistent and appeared in just one postseason game in the last two years, a mopup effort at Fenway Park.

"Hideki came in with a lot of fanfare," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "He wanted us as badly as we wanted him. There were some good times and some tough times as well. We saw those flashes of brilliance that attracted us when he was a free agent coming out of Japan."

Irabu had one season at $2 million left on his $12.8 million, four-year contract.

To get him to agree to the deal, the Expos took his $4 million option for 2001 and guaranteed it at $2.5 million. It would rise to $3 million if he pitches 150 innings next year, $3.5 million if he pitches 165 innings and $4 million if he pitches 180 innings.

"We thought Hideki could be someone special for us," new Expos owner Jeffrey Loria said. "My read on Hideki was that he was a power pitcher with a terrific arm and probably one of the nastiest split-fingered fastballs I have seen."

In the free agent market, left-hander Jeff Fassero agreed to a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, and outfielder Thomas Howard returned to the St. Louis Cardinals, agreeing to a $650,000, one-year contract. Howard hit .292 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 195 at-bats this year.