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Ball of Confusion
Tim Kurkjian
January 09, 1995
With an imposed salary cap in place and court battles looming, baseball spins out of control
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January 09, 1995

Ball Of Confusion

With an imposed salary cap in place and court battles looming, baseball spins out of control

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Dealing for Dollars
The Houston Astros and the San Diego Padres announced a 12-player trade on Dec. 28, and here's the bottom line: Houston reduced its payroll by approximately $5 million. (The money below represents what each player would have earned in base salary in 1994 had the season been played to its conclusion.)

Astros give up

1. Ken Caminiti, 3B

$3,000,000

2. Steve Finley, OF

2,050,000

3. Andujar Cedeno, SS

340,000

4. Brian Williams, P

190,000

5. Roberto Petagine, 1B

109,000

6. Minor leaguer or cash

50,000

TOTAL

$6,539,000

Padres give up

7. Phil Plantier, OF

$500,000

8. Derek Bell, OF

385,000

9. Craig Shipley, INF

275,000

10. Ricky Gutierrez, SS.

187,500

11. Doug Brocail, P

150,000

12. Pedro Martinez, P

135,000

TOTAL

$1,632,500

NOTE: The major league minimum base salary in 1994 was $109,000; Petagine, who spent only part of the season with the Astros, actually made less than that last year. Also, the Padres will receive a minor league player to be named by April 30 or a cash payment of $50,000.

It was a joyous Christmas Day at the Smith house in Houston. Tal Smith, president of the Houston Astros, gave his son, Randy, general manager of the San Diego Padres, a sculpture of an old-time baseball player. Randy gave his father a sculpture too, this one of Stan Musial, as well as a baseball anthology. Every ornament on the Christmas tree was baseball related, as was much of the dinner conversation—after all, the Astros and the Padres had just agreed to a 12-player trade that would be announced in a few days.

From his new book, Tal read aloud a poem, which assured that all would be right with the world again when Babe Ruth returned from a suspension and started hitting home runs. "The game is the thing," Tal said later. "No one is bigger than the game. Let's hope that the beauty of the game transcends what's going on now."

What's going on with the game today is confusion, anger and mistrust. The relationship between major league owners and striking players is as acrimonious as ever (negotiations have ceased and aren't scheduled to resume), general managers struggle to figure out the revenue-sharing plan and salary cap implemented by the owners on Dec. 23, and nobody—not owners, G.M.'s, players or fans—knows whether major leaguers or replacement players will suit up on Opening Day.

Normally this is the time when the hot-stove league heats up, but instead of talk about National League RBI champ Jeff Bagwell, there's talk of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board). Instead of assessing the new lineups of the Astros and the Padres, whose Dec. 28 trade was the biggest in 37 years, baseball people are focusing on how the deal affects each club's status under the cap.

Here's what the holiday season brought:

•The Texas Rangers traded slugger Jose Canseco to the Boston Red Sox for a prospect and a 36-year-old leadoff hitter; the Chicago White Sox sent ace Jack McDowell to the New York Yankees for a pedestrian Double A pitcher; and the San Francisco Giants dealt their best starting pitcher, John Burkett, to Texas for two minor leaguers—all because those three stars were due to become free agents and would demand hefty new contracts that few teams could afford to pay.

•White Sox designated hitter Julio Franco, coming off his best year (.319, 20 homers, 98 RBIs) in 13 seasons, signed a contract worth $3.5 million to play in Japan in 1995 because he wasn't sure major leaguers would be playing next spring.

•The Seattle Mariners knowingly overpaid (three years, $15.5 million) outfielder Jay Buhner (.279, 21 homers, 68 RBIs) to pacify their fans, the local media and their superstar, Ken Griffey Jr., who said he would ask to be traded or eventually leave as a free agent if his outfield mate was not re-signed (box, page 63).

•In their blockbuster deal with the Padres, the Astros traded six players, three of them starters, in order to knock approximately $5 million off their payroll (box below). A month earlier they also traded starter Pete Harnisch to the New York Mets for two minor league pitchers, thus saving another $3 million.

All this while the industry was effectively shut down by a strike.

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