"I figure I might lose $300,000, $400,000 with this contract if I do really well," says Baerga, a .288 hitter last year whose new four-year deal will pay him $6.9 million ($500,000 in '92, then $1.2 million, $2.2 million and $3 million). "If I hit .330 or knock in 110 runs, I'll say, 'Oh, my god! What have I done?' But that's my risk. I accept it. And this gives me the security to just go out and play ball."
The potential downside to Hart's actions? He gave financial security to mostly unproved players who might turn out to be major league busts. For example, how could he have so much confidence in seven pitchers who were a combined 31-62 with a 4.17 ERA last year? Says Houston Astro general manager Bill Wood, who has talent and market problems of his own, "The way we're doing it contractually, a year at time, is more expensive. But we feel players play best on a year-to-year basis, with no guarantees for the future."
Wood brings up the biggest socioeconomic argument of this sports generation: Are hungry players better players? Or do young players play better when they're not thinking about their next contract?
Armstrong, for one, should be an interesting laboratory rat in this experiment. Acquired from Cincinnati, where he had earned a decidedly different-drummer reputation, Armstrong went from being the starting pitcher for the National League in the 1990 All-Star Game to 7-13 with a 5.48 ERA in '91. In November the Reds peddled Armstrong and Scudder to Cleveland for Swindell, a quality starter the Indians decided they couldn't afford to keep. Hart gave Armstrong a three-year, $2.9 million deal with some $800,000 in performance incentives over the life of the contract.
Last Friday in Tucson, Armstrong sat in the Indians dugout. The sky was sunny and cloudless, as was Armstrong's mood. "In baseball, you can't try too hard, and that's what I was doing," he said. "Last year I was always pitching with a hidden agenda, trying to justify the year I'd had in 1990 and trying to pitch for my [financial] future. Now, with the deal I signed, I can pitch with no emotional baggage. The peace of mind is invaluable."
It all sounds terrific and looks good on paper—for now. "I can look you straight in the eye and tell you there's hope in Cleveland," Hart says.
"The money's not top, top dollar," says Alomar, whose four-year deal totals $7.3 million ($500,000 in '92, then $1.3 million, $2.2 million and $3.3 million). "But it is fair, and I feel like they're trying to put something good together here. Besides, money isn't everything, you know."
Hope in Cleveland? Money's not everything? In baseball? It's a wonderful life, indeed.