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Wednesday, December 4, 2002
Hundley returns to L.A. in four-player deal

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs completed their big deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, trading catcher Todd Hundley and outfielder Chad Hermansen for first baseman Eric Karros, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek and $2 million.

Monday, Dec. 2
This deal is another of those 21st-century classics whereby teams swap high-priced headaches. Not because they think changes of scenery will help, but rather because new headaches don't hurt as much as old ones.

There are some presumed benefits, of course.

The Dodgers have a solid prospect at second base named Joe Thurston, and trading Grudzielanek clears a path for Thurston, who will get a real good shot at earning the everyday job next spring. Also, trading Grudzielanek and Karros saves the Dodgers a few million dollars in 2003, and they can use that payroll flexibility to fill one or more holes.

The Cubs also have a solid prospect at second base (Bobby Hill) and they have a solid prospect at first base (Hee Seop Choi), which makes one wonder why they're bringing aboard an over-the-hill second baseman (Grudzielanek) and an over-the-hill first baseman (Karros). The answer, presumably, is that 1) they're not completely sold on Hill and Choi, and 2) new manager Dusty Baker prefers players in their 30s to players in their 20s. On a happier note, though, Grudzielanek's and Karros' contracts both expire at the conclusion of the 2003 season, which will give the Cubs some payroll flexibility of their own.

The teams reached a tentative agreement Tuesday, and were given 72 hours to complete the deal. To finalize it, Karros waived his right to veto the trade and Grudzielanek agreed to restructure his contract.

"Our first and foremost goal was to gain some roster flexibility,'' Dodgers general manager Dan Evans said. "This trade doesn't give us an unlimited amount of money, but it gives us some freedom.''

Since finishing 67-95, the Cubs have been busy. They hired manager Dusty Baker, signed free agent reliever Mike Remlinger, traded for catchers Damian Miller and Paul Bako and then made this deal.

"I felt it was important to get a deeper team, more people that can play on a daily basis,'' Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "I thought this was a real good situation for us because our people don't think these guys don't still have some baseball in them.''

Karros and Hundley are both coming off poor power seasons. They are still owed big money, as is Grudzielanek.

Karros, 35, made his major league debut with the Dodgers in 1991 and his 270 home runs are the most in Los Angeles history. But he hit a career-low 13 home runs last season while batting .271 with 73 RBI.

"Shocked would have been going somewhere I wasn't excited about,'' Karros said. "To have an opportunity to play in Chicago, I'm excited about it.''

Both new players have already spoken to Baker.

"He's a motivator,'' Grudzielanek said. "They're doing some things over there.''

The Dodgers went 92-70 and were in contention for the NL wild-card spot until the final week.

"We were close, and this deal allows us to do some things we couldn't even contemplate before,'' Evans said.

Minus Karros, Los Angeles could go shopping for a first baseman -- one candidate could be free agent Cliff Floyd, who once played for Dodgers manager Jim Tracy in Montreal's minor league system. The Dodgers may also pursue free agent second baseman Jeff Kent.

Karros is owed $8 million next year and his contract includes a 2004 club option for $9 million with a $1 million buyout. If he reaches 500 plate appearances next season, his 2004 salary would be guaranteed.

The Cubs have high hopes for 23-year-old first baseman Hee Seop Choi, who made his major league debut last season and hit .180 with two home runs in 50 at-bats.

"My job is to come in and do whatever they need me to do,'' Karros said.

With 10 years in the majors, including five with the same team, Karros could have refused to leave the team he'd spent his entire career with. But he told the Dodgers two years ago that he'd never do that, and he waived his veto rights Wednesday.

"Quite frankly, it would have had to be a pretty bad situation for me not to sign that waiver,'' he said. "I'm very excited to come to Chicago and start anew.''

Grudzielanek, 32, hit .271 with nine homers and 50 RBI for the Dodgers. He and Tracy had difficulties in spring training, and their relationship did not get much better.

"There were some issues there and we didn't exactly see eye to eye,'' Grudzielanek said. "Apparently, he didn't like it. But I'll just leave it at that.''

Cubs rookie Bobby Hill showed promise at second base last season.

"As it stands now, there's going to be a little competition at the spot,'' Grudzielanek said. "I have no problem with that. "I'm looking forward to a new challenge in a new place.''

There's also a possibility Grudzielanek could see some time at third base, where the Cubs still have a spot to fill. Free agent Bill Mueller also is a possibility, but the Cubs think Grudzielanek could play there, too.

"I definitely worked really hard for the transition from shortstop to second base,'' Grudzielanek said. "So from shortstop to second to third, I don't think it would be too difficult.''

Grudzielanek was due to get a $5.5 million next season, with a 2004 club option for $6 million with a $500,000 buyout.

As part of the trade, he agreed to restructure his contract into a new deal that calls for a $2 million signing bonus, a $1 million salary in 2003 and a payment of $3 million within two months of the end of the 2003 season.

Hundley, 33, will get $6 million next year and $6.5 million in 2004. The catcher will get an extra $500,000 for 2004 if he makes 100 starts next season.

Hundley hit .211 with 16 home runs and 35 RBI. In his two seasons with the Cubs, the former All-Star has hit only 28 homers with 66 RBI.

"Obviously, we all feed bad. It didn't work out for Todd here,'' Hendry said.

Hundley played for the Dodgers in 1999 and 2000. He'll be a reserve for the Dodgers, backing up Paul Lo Duca.

Hermansen, 26, hit .207 with eight home runs and 18 RBI in 100 games for the Cubs and Pittsburgh last season.