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All dollars stop with owners
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
Some teams just can't play the game, and so when the Padres thought all Jeromy Burnitz wanted was home and security, they learned that if they want Burnitz and and keep their payroll at $37 million, they'll have to pay him at least 27 percent of that total. Which doesn't work.
With all the Reds' cutbacks, they'll be paying Junior Griffey and Barry Larkin -- who are taking less to play in their hometown -- half their payroll, and don't think all those teams aren't fully aware that when(and if) Mike Mussina signs with the Yankees and Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza are satisfied at the arbitration table that the 2001 Yankees pitching staff will cost more than $50 million.
Every August, owners don brown robes and take vows of poverty, then come November act like Democratic high-rollers summering on Nantucket. A month ago, the Pads thought Burnitz, who can be a free agent next fall, was an $8-million-a-year player who might take $6.25 million to play near his California home, only to find out that his agent's perception is Burnitz is a $10-12 million player. Weeks ago, the Mets thought Rick Reed was a $5.5 million pitcher, and now he's about to get at least $7.5 million for three years (from the Mets?).
Common logic said Denny Neagle had lost value with his postseason performance, but word Friday was that Boston was willing to go $10 million in the right deal. Kevin Appier? His agents claimed he can get a 3-4 year, $8.5 million per annum market. Darren Dreifort (39-45 career record) is going to get $50M or $55M for five years. In October, the Giants thought Ellis Burks a safe $5M, and he's going to get three years and close to $24M from either the Rangers or Indians.
As Mark Knopfler says, "That's what it is."
Baseball is unfair, but don't start knocking on Alex Rodriguez's door. The inequities are between owners, not players, and the fact is that as a group, owners in the last decade have been far greedier than players. It was the owners who, for quick monetary hits, expanded twice in the last decade, escalating salaries and costs (such as amateur acquisition) and shortsightedly eliminated blackmail destinations for teams stuck in local political swamps.
But as the Padres and Reds -- who have already dumped arbitration eligibles Eddie Taubensee, Chris Stynes and Ron Villone and will soon move Steve Parris and Brian Hunter -- are projecting lower payrolls on April 1, 2001 than they had on Oct. 1, 2000, there are those in the game wondering if the Expos' year-to-year, hand-to-mouth approach isn't the realistic way to go.
The Royals have done a remarkable job restoring a good franchise in a great baseball town, but now Johnny Damon has to go as a fifth-year player staring at 2001 free agency, and both Mike Sweeney and Jermaine Dye will be in the same position next season. The Marlins, too, have had a tremendous resurgence, but if owner John Henry cannot get a ballpark, with the core of the team arbitration eligible or free agents in the next two years, they may have to crawl out of their window.
One starts to wonder how many teams can afford to keep putting $10-20M players on their credit cards, and that if the answer is finite, when and where some players start to lose out (hello, Juan Gonzalez). Take the Dodgers. They're already at a $78M payroll for next season, and once they sign a pitcher (Dreifort?) and Chan Ho Park has won his $11M-13M in arbitration, they will be over $100M. Since Gary Sheffield's recent no-trade list eliminates, as one GM says, "every good, wealthy team," what it would take to move him would be so prohibitive it is virtually impossible. So, for the Dodgers to sign a Charles Johnson to a Jason Kendall deal would zoom them in towards $120M when all is said and signed. Or to sign A-Rod? How does $130M sound.
This obviously is what the Mets thought out when they decided to drop out of the Rodriguez sweepstakes, and because there had been so much anticipation of his impending arrival in beautiful Flushing, GM Steve Phillips had to play spin doctor.
Jason Giambi is one player who understands all this. He also knows that he may be as happy as he'll ever be with this particular Oakland team. It is arguably the best young club in the game; after all, only the White Sox and four National League teams won more games. "Every day is like a frat party" says Giambi, and when he stood at the podium at a press conference Wednesday after winning the MVP award, he became very emotional. He told his agents, Joel Wolfe and Arn Tellum, that as he answered questions he looked over and saw tears in the eyes of some of the front office employees, who understandly have affection for Giambi's unbridled, genuine enthusiasm.
Giambi, of course, is a free agent at the end of next season. He legitimately can look at Carlos Delgado's $17 million-a-year deal and say, "That's mine." But he isn't. Tellum and Oakland GM Billy Beane are trying to find a fair ground that won't leave the A's paralyzed, and both believe it can be done, likely with some escape mechanisms should the Oakland ownership situation turns into Charles Oscar Finley III.
Yankees may give thanks to Mussina
The recruitment by Yankees players has been very impressive, and one GM said that a Yankees exec this week told him, "When the Yankees decide they want someone, they get him." It should be noted that the only significant player on the 2000 world champions who was signed as a free agent from another team was Mike Stanton.
While Ellis Burks could sign quickly with the Rangers or Indians, Mike Hampton, Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez may go well into the winter meetings, which begin December 7 in Dallas. Texas has a Bushload of cash to spend thanks to owner Tom Hicks' TV deal, and Hicks wants a big name -- A-Rod, Hampton or Sammy Sosa -- and some marquee value. "They are in on more players and trades than anyone," says another club official. "I don't think Doug (Melvin) ever sleeps."
If Burks were to sign with the Indians, Ramirez is definitely out. Cleveland would have loved to have done the deal with Toronto that would have sent Roberto Alomar and Dave Burba for Raul Mondesi and David Wells (then sign a second baseman like Jose Valentin or Bret Boone), but the Indians cannot absord the extra salaries they'd take on as the Jays try to re-balance their finances as well.
Exactly where the Ramirez chase will lead, no one seems sure at this point. Seattle has lined him up should Rodriguez walk, but Mariners GM Pat Gillick seems reluctant to go too many years on Many, especially after his lingering hamstring problems this past season. The Mets keep coming up. Colorado, too. If the Rockies lose out on Burks, as expected, they could go hard after Ramirez, but it is unlikely Dan O'Dowd will allow his team to have half its payroll wrapped in only three players (Ramirez, Todd Helton and Larry Walker).
"What you might see is Dan see if Walker would waive his no-trade and go somewhere -- probably Boston -- for prospects, then take his money and use it on Manny," says one GM. "It may be hard matching, however, because if it were the Red Sox, they have almost no prospects above A ball."
The Mets are trying to get their pitching straightened out before going further, which is complicated by the free agent status of Reed, Hampton, Bobby J. Jones, Turk Wendell and John Franco. If they get Reed and Wendell done soon, they still have to find two more starters to go with Al Leiter snd Glendon Rusch, and add depth in the pen. Don't be surprised if they look internationally.
News and notes and rumors
Anyone who knows Garciaparra knows he would never dictate team policy or seek any special treatment. And why didn't Duquette call Garciaparra and arrange some call with Everett to set the record straight? A little people skill would have gone a long way here.
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