From the moment baseball's owners unilaterally imposed their economic plan on striking players last week, many predicted unprecedented madness for the sport's future.
Yet, while new concerns played some role in this transaction, it almost certainly had less to do with a salary cap than with the divergent views of two owners.
Stripped of most of their talent in recent years, the Padres were recently sold to a Texas computer tycoon, John Moores. Having vowed to restore a decimated team that produced baseball's worst record (47-70) in 1994, Moores was willing to take on the more than $7 million that Caminiti and Finley, two talented veterans, are to be paid next season.
"We definitely had some room to improve," said Padres general manager Randy Smith, who made the deal with his father, Tal Smith, the Astros' new president.
"This is a deal that could not have been made without a commitment from new ownership," the younger Smith said. "We've added quite a bit of salary with this, and with the re-signed Bip Roberts, we feel we're in very good shape for next year."
On the other hand, Houston owner Drayton McLane, having signed the National League's most valuable player, first baseman Jeff Bagwell, for $27.5 million over four years, has talked of drastically reducing expenses.
Yesterday's trade removed one-third of the Astros' regular lineup. Moreover, pitcher Pete Harnisch already had been traded to the New York Mets for minor-leaguers, and several other veterans, including pitcher Doug Drabek, might not be re-signed.
"We've increased our run production, we've improved our pitching depth, we're a younger team, we have greater control over the players who are coming to us, and we improved our condition under the salary cap," Tal Smith said.
Combined, all of the players Houston obtained figure to make far less than either Caminiti or Finley in 1995. Plantier, signed through 1995, is scheduled to make $500,000 this season; the unsigned Bell made $300,000 in 1994. Shipley made $275,000 last season, and Brocail, Gutierrez and Martinez all made less than $200,000.
Cedeno made $340,000 last season, Williams $190,000 and Petagine the minimum, $109,000.
In sheer volume, this was baseball's largest transaction since Nov. 20, 1957, when the Kansas City Athletics and Detroit Tigers swapped 13 players, including Billy Martin, Guz Zernial and Mickey McDermott.
The biggest trade ever was an 18-player deal between the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles after the 1954 season. That swap, announced over two weeks, involved Don Larsen, Bob Turley and Gus Triandos.
Caminiti, 31, nearly became a Phillie last season and continued to interest Philadelphia until Gregg Jefferies was signed to a four-year $20 million contract. An all-star in 1994, Caminiti hit .283 and had 18 homers and 75 RBIs.
Finley, 30, an outstanding defensive centerfielder and leadoff hitter, hit .276, with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. Cedeno, 25, who led all National League shortstops with 23 errors last season, batted .263, with nine homers and 49 RBIs. Williams, 26, was 6-5 with a 5.74 ERA.
Plantier and Bell will arrive in Houston relatively cheap and with tremendous potential.
Plantier, 25, a lefthanded hitter with a big swing, had an excellent 1993 season, hitting .240 but adding 34 home runs and 100 RBIs. However, injuries in the strike-shortened 1994 season reduced those figures to .220, 18 homers and 41 RBIs.
Bell, 26, a second-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987, hit .311, with 14 homers and 54 RBIs.
Brocail, 27, was 0-0 with a 5.82 ERA in 12 appearances. Gutierrez, 24, primarily a shortstop in 1994, hit .240 and had one homer and 28 RBIs. Shipley, 31, used mostly at third, hit .333, with four homers and 30 RBIs. Martinez, 26, was 3-2, with a 2.90 ERA, as a setup man.
This is the second move the Padres have made since Moores bought the club. Last week, they re-signed Roberts, their switch-hitting leadoff hitter, to a two-year, $4.8 million contract.
When Roberts was re-signed, it was with the understanding that he would play third base or the outfield. He will play left or center field, with Caminiti moving to third. Cedeno apparently will be the new shortstop.