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Posted: Thursday December 17, 1998 01:19 PM
Getting Fiscal: 60-40 or Fight | When Brown Turns Gray
Eckstraordinary | Hot Stove Report
L.A. outbid itself in giving Kevin Brown an embarrassment of riches
By Tom Verducci and Kostya Kennedy
Here is a man-bites-dog story about a baseball owner who actually said, "Enough!" It happened last month, right after Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner agreed to retain his free-agent centerfielder, Bernie Williams, by paying him $12.5 million per year over seven years. That's when Williams's agent, Scott Boras, broached the idea of including incentive clauses, which have become an industry standard. Steinbrenner, recognizing that a $12.5 million player should make All-Star teams and win Gold Gloves, snapped, "Stop. Don't even bring it up." Boras, with Williams's blessing, backed down.
"It depends on what the player wants," says Boras, who represents Brown and Rodriguez. "I'm sure if Kevin Brown wanted to be involved in a [Fox] TV show, that could be included," Boras added, referring to the network that owns the Dodgers.
Though they incurred the wrath of other clubs, the Dodgers were not alone in their zest to sign Brown. The Cardinals, Orioles, Padres and Rockies were also eager to accommodate him. "I've never seen anything like it," says Boras, who had predicted a six-year deal. "We had to turn off the faucet."
Only the Dodgers and the Rockies, however, presented firm offers that would make Brown the game's highest-paid player, according to one source familiar with the talks. The Cardinals spoke only in general terms with Boras; the Orioles offered $55 million over five years with indications that they'd add a sixth; and the Padres offered $60 million over six years. Colorado was willing to add dollars to its original six-year, $81 million offer.
The Dodgers' front office was unaware that on Dec. 2, Brown told Boras that he preferred to play in Los Angeles. Still, last Friday, Boras told the Dodgers that they could close the deal with Brown if they added another year to their six-year, $90 million offer. Los Angeles, which earlier this year agreed to pay rightfielder Gary Sheffield's $5 million state tax bill upon his trade from Florida, quickly swallowed the hook.
"We felt fairly certain that if we didn't [add the seventh year], someone else would have," explained Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone. "This is not just about the Dodgers. Other teams were willing to go the distance."
Said Padres owner Larry Lucchino, "The Dodgers were bidding against themselves. We're operating in a wide-open system of liar's poker."
The signing touched off the usual sky-is-falling wailings that are heard every time the salary ceiling is raised. Baseball's newly appointed executive vice president of baseball operations, Sandy Alderson, joined in the chorus of complaints -- the same Sandy Alderson who, in 1990 as general manager of the Athletics, made outfielder Jose Canseco the highest-paid player in the game ($4.7 million per year). Alderson exceeded the previous high salary ($3.86 million), which the Yankees had given to first baseman Don Mattingly less than three months earlier, by 22%. The Dodgers raised the bar 12.5% higher than Mo Vaughn's record, set just 17 days earlier when he signed a six-year, $80 million deal with the Angels.
"I wouldn't expect, nor would I think the Dodgers expect, that they are going to get seven years of production from a player [Brown's] age," said Braves general manager John Schuerholz.
Meanwhile, at least one other club summoned enough resolve to draw the line. On Sunday the Astros angrily rejected a request by five-time American League Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, 36, who has $16.6 million and two years left on his contract, to add one year and $27 million to the deal, if the Blue Jays are able to trade him to Houston. "Quite frankly, we are absolutely stunned and outraged," Houston G.M. Gerry Hunsicker said.
"Teams have got to have some backbone," Lucchino said. "That's a part of it. But the system has got to change."
Eighteen years ago Rickey Henderson stole 100 bases in a season for the first time. Eight seasons ago he slid into third base with alltime-record steal number 939, pulled up the bag and held it aloft. On Christmas Day he will turn 40, yet his one-year, $2.3 million contract with the Mets is a flat-out steal for New York.
Widely considered the best leadoff hitter in history, Henderson remained among the American League's finest in that slot with the A's last season. He led the league in walks (118) and stolen bases (66), and his .376 on-base percentage was third best among leadoff men. Mets leadoff hitters, in the meantime, had only a .321 on-base percentage, and the team stole four fewer bases than Henderson did.
Still a chiseled physical specimen and still deeply numbers conscious, Henderson has his narrowed glare set upon two alltime records: He needs 167 walks to pass Babe Ruth's 2,056 and 232 runs to pass Ty Cobb's 2,245. (Henderson scored 101 in '98.)
"You have some initial reservations when you think, Hey, here's a 40-year-old player," says Mets general manager Steve Phillips. "But Rickey, he's not normal."
Even before the Brown signing, commissioner Bud Selig was getting a little light-headed looking at the precipitous rise in salaries. So when he addressed the owners at a Dec. 3 meeting in Chicago, he told them that they'd have to adhere to a guideline adopted in 1982 but rarely enforced in recent years: The "60-40 rule," which requires all franchises to maintain at least a 60-to-40 ratio of assets to liabilities. Assets are defined as a club's appraised value while liabilities include total player salaries and all deferred money. Roughly 10 teams -- whose identities the commissioner's office won't reveal -- are currently in violation of the 60-40 rule. (They may not be the usual big-spending bogeymen like the Yankees and the Dodgers, whose high franchise values might allow them to conform to the 60-40 guideline.) If the violators don't fall in line within three years, the commissioner, in the words of one baseball official, "has broad powers to get a team into compliance."
An obvious course for a club attempting to comply would be to reduce its payroll, a scenario that raises the ire of the players' union. In January 1985 a union grievance against the edict that was filed two years earlier was denied when an arbitrator ruled that 60-40 does not necessarily limit what a team can spend. That is, a team could conform to the rule by enhancing its value -- by getting a new stadium, for instance, or negotiating a richer TV contract -- while also maintaining, or even increasing, its player payroll. "The rule is meant to help ensure we continue to have 30 healthy teams, without directly affecting player compensation," says Bob DuPuy, baseball's executive vice president of administration and chief legal officer.
But if it could be proved that a team didn't pursue a player because of 60-40, says union associate general counsel Gene Orza, it could be grounds for a grievance. That's why baseball officials tread so carefully around the issue and refuse to name the teams not in compliance.
Whatever its hazards, enforcement of 60-40 could clearly make many teams watch their wallets more responsibly. Remember that the current luxury tax system--which will levy a toll on five teams that each shelled out some $70 million or more on player salaries last season--does little to deter spending because it affects so few teams and those only negligibly: Of the five clubs who will be taxed for '98, three are expected to pay out less than $700,000 each, including the Dodgers, who may pay as little as $39,000, approximately half of what Albert Belle will earn for one game.
Kevin Brown will be 40 in the final season of the seven-year, $105 million deal he signed with the Dodgers last Saturday. Will the righthander still be dominant, or even effective, in the later stages of his contract? Considering the late-career won-lost records and ERAs listed here for five recent Hall of Fame starters and one shrine shoo-in (Nolan Ryan), it's far from a sure thing.
Red Sox righthander Dennis Eckersley retired last Thursday, ending a 24-year career in which he filled two roles: 20-game winner as a starter, and dominating closer. Eck pitched in more regular-season games (1,071) than any other pitcher in baseball history and bowed out ranking third on the alltime saves list. Perhaps more impressive, he is the only pitcher to amass both 150 wins and 100 saves -- and no hurler in history has a higher combined total in those two categories.
In an effort to reduce their $72 million payroll, the Braves intended to move outfielder Ryan Klesko , who is to be paid $4.75 million next season. But now G.M. John Schuerholz is reconsidering cost cuts as teams such as the Dodgers, the Mets, the Orioles and the Yankees redefine baseball's high-rent district. "We may just decide to go a little higher than we expected," Schuerholz says, "depending on what other teams do." ... Barry Larkin would like to be the next Roger Clemens -- get traded, then renegotiate -- but Reds general manager Jim Bowden is in no hurry to satisfy the shortstop. "I know what he wants," Bowden says. "He's making $5 million a year and sees where the market has gone. If he is traded, it would have to be a Herschel Walker type of trade." Bowden was referring to the celebrated 1989 NFL deal in which the Minnesota Vikings got Walker (and four draft picks) from the Dallas Cowboys for a package that included eight draft choices and five players. ...
The Indians' Omar Vizquel is another shortstop unhappy with his pay. Vizquel is playing under a seven-year, $21 million deal and would like years or a balloon payment added to his contract. ... The Diamondbacks set a free-agent budget large enough to afford either centerfielder Bernie Williams or the package of lefthander Randy Johnson and centerfielder Steve Finley . Arizona wound up with the latter, and a random survey at the winter meetings supported its choice. "Bernie Williams won't win 20 games for you," says Indians manager Mike Hargrove ....
Gregg Jefferies , arguably the best bat still on the free-agent market as of Monday night, had drawn only a few halfhearted suitors (Mariners, Red Sox, White Sox). His stock has plummeted since he signed a four-year, $20 million deal with Philadelphia before the '95 season. Jefferies hasn't developed the power some had projected for him, and he is not strong defensively at any of his positions (first base, second base, third base and leftfield). ... It appeared that Expos centerfielder Rondell White , who last month seemed on the verge of being traded, will be staying in Montreal. In return for White, general manager Jim Beattie was demanding at least three young players who could make the Expos' roster next season. ... Free-agent second baseman Mark Lewis signed a one-year contract with the Reds last Saturday. Lewis, who played for the Phillies in '98, has now changed teams after each of the last six seasons.
Issue date: December 21, 1998
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