- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2004

In a dizzying flurry of deals, the Boston Red Sox sent star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs in a blockbuster, four-team swap right before yesterday’s trade deadline.

Steve Finley, Esteban Loaiza and Orlando Cabrera also switched teams in the eight trades that came less than an hour before the 4 p.m. limit for making deals without waivers.

“My initial reaction was, ‘wow,’” Garciaparra said.

Randy Johnson, however, remained with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The New York Yankees desperately wanted him but instead wound up trading Jose Contreras to the Chicago White Sox for Loaiza in a swap of starting pitchers.

With more than 20 teams still in the playoff hunt, a lot of clubs were eager for action. American League West-leading Texas nearly got Larry Walker — the Colorado slugger turned down a trade — and Rockies catcher Charles Johnson nixed a deal to Los Angeles.

But those old October heartbreakers, the Red Sox and Cubs, got busy.

Garciaparra was already wearing his Boston jersey when manager Terry Francona called a team meeting before the game at Minnesota. Then the news spread inside the clubhouse: The five-time All-Star shortstop and two-time AL batting champion was headed to the Cubs.

“If it was in my control, I’d still be wearing a Red Sox uniform because it’s the place I know, I love. All of those fans, I’ll always remember,” Garciaparra said. “But I’m also going to another great place. I’m going to a phenomenal city with great tradition as well, phenomenal fans, great organization.”

And he added, “Hopefully, we’ll see them in the World Series.”

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was ecstatic to get Garciaparra, in the last year of his contract and the subject of trade rumors all year.

“I think he will bring a ton to the table and a presence on the field and off,” Hendry said. “You never go to work thinking he’s going to be available.”

Garciaparra, 31, is batting .321 with five home runs and 21 RBI in 38 games this season. He missed the first 57 games of the season with an injured Achilles’ tendon.

The Red Sox wound up with Cabrera, Montreal’s Gold Glove shortstop, and Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, another Gold Glover.

The Cubs got Garciaparra and minor league outfielder Matt Murton. Montreal acquired Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez, pitcher Francis Beltran and infielder Brendan Harris, and the Twins got minor league pitcher Justin Jones.

“It was complicated — so many teams,” Twins GM Terry Ryan said. “I can see why things get bogged down. I don’t know if deadlines are a good thing or not — we were real close.”

Johnson stayed put despite drawing interest from several teams. The five-time Cy Young Award winner had a no-trade clause in his contract.

The National League West-leading Dodgers were active, making three trades, most notably the one for Finley.

After Finley agreed to accept a deal to Los Angeles, the Diamondbacks traded the four-time Gold Glove center fielder with catcher Brent Mayne. The 39-year-old Finley hit .274 with 23 home runs and 48 RBI for Arizona.

After getting shut out on Johnson, the AL East-leading Yankees swapped the inconsistent Contreras and $3million for Loaiza, a 21-game winner last season.

Loaiza is 9-5 with a 4.86 ERA in 21 starts this year and made his second straight All-Star appearance. He is eligible for free agency after this season.

“It’s kind of hard for me right now, especially all the good stuff I’ve had in Chicago and the success I’ve had here,” Loaiza said, “but the Yankees are the Yankees.”

Contreras is 8-5 with a 5.64 ERA in 18 games this season. The top pitcher in Cuba when he defected, his up-and-down tendencies perplexed and frustrated the Yankees for two years.

“This one gained steam rather quickly. This deal started probably about 10:30 or 11 o’clock,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “The deal was done, but the paperwork didn’t go through until 3:59. That’s when the fax went through — and I have proof of that.”

In other trades:

• Florida acquired starting pitcher Ismael Valdez and reliever Rudy Seanez. The World Series champions sent minor league pitcher Travis Chick to San Diego for Valdez and dealt outfielder Abraham Nunez to Kansas City for Seanez.

• Texas got pitcher Scott Erickson and cash from the New York Mets for a player to be named.

Starting late yesterday afternoon, teams can still make trades, but it becomes a trickier process. Players must pass through waivers — meaning any other club can claim them — before a deal.

Teams have until Aug.31 to acquire players in order for them to be eligible for the postseason.

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