The days of the long-term contract are over. The last pact of more than three years was signed by Ken Oberkfell of the Braves in 1985. But until there's more shrinkage in the number of players being paid not to play ($20.8 million went to inactive players in '87, down from $40 million in '85), or until attendance needs boosting, or until owners are forced to change their antitrust ways, players will find a slow market.
So don't look for current free agents Morris, Smith, Righetti, Witt, Jack Clark or Charlie Leibrandt to touch off any bidding wars. To get top dollar, each will likely have to accept arbitration or tread water and hope another team comes to the rescue. The Yankees, one of those clubs for whom free agents make sense because they can afford them, may sign former A's outfielder Mike Davis and perhaps Witt. Fine. The Indians and Giants will gladly accept first-round draft choices for Butler and Davis, and for decent raises, players like San Francisco's Joe Price and Atlee Hammaker will sign with either the Giants or another club.
The message to free agents this winter is clear: Take what you can get and don't be greedy. "The Twins winning the Series—Jack Morris be damned—overshadowed any decision any arbitrator could have made," says a players' agent. "But the money still isn't bad."