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Arbitrator George Nicolau's recent decision in favor of the players in the Class of '86 collusion case could blow the free-agent market wide open this year. Many of the players involved—including pitchers Jim Clancy (Toronto) and Doyle Alexander (Detroit), and catchers Bob Boone (California), Rich Gedman (Boston), Ernie Whitt (Toronto) and Lance Parrish (Philadelphia)—are expected to be granted free-look free agency by Nicolau at the end of the season, giving them a chance to test the market without jeopardizing their current contracts.
Those players should generate a lot of interest because, unlike regular free agents, they won't require draft-choice compensation. "The players, agents and arbitrators don't understand it, but draft choices are important," says Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson. "Most teams are reluctant to give up a first-round pick for a veteran who they'll have for only a year or two."
This year's crop of potential regular free agents includes some intriguing names, especially for teams looking for pitching. The most likely millionaire-to-be is Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst, who was 16-5 with a 3.82 ERA at week's end. Not only is he a southpaw with a 44-26 record for the last three years, but he can also pitch in the clutch. To keep Hurst in Boston, the Red Sox traded for his friend, pitcher Mike Boddicker, which helped their case. But Hurst has said that he would like to play in a bigger stadium than Fenway, even though he is 11-1 at home this year. Another pitcher who could do well in the open market is Phillie closer Steve Bedrosian (25 saves. 3.93 ERA), winner of the National League's Cy Young Award in '87. The bidding should also be lively for San Diego's Eric Show (13-11, 3.20 ERA), Pittsburgh's Dave LaPoint (4-0, 1.19 ERA with the Pirates; 10-11, 3.40 ERA with the White Sox) and Seattle's Mike Moore (7-14, 3.89 ERA).
The most sought-after position player will probably be Rangers shortstop Scott Fletcher, who was hitting .277 through Sunday. Several teams, including the Pirates and Blue Jays, have tried unsuccessfully to coax Texas into trading Fletcher this season. Twins second baseman Tom Herr should also be available, but he has been troubled by a hamstring injury this season and at 32 might have trouble convincing interested teams—such as Philadelphia. Montreal and Toronto—that he is more than just a .250 hitter. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who have 14 potential free agents on their roster, may lose second baseman Steve Sax or outfielder Mike Marshall unless they make them sizable offers.
The compensation issue could reduce the marketability of several veteran free agents, in particular pitchers Mike Flanagan (Toronto), Bert Blyleven (Minnesota) and Nolan Ryan (Houston). Flanagan, 36, would like to move to a new team, but the Blue Jays don't want him to leave because they may lose Clancy at the end of the season and let another starter, Dave Stieb, become a free agent rather than pay the remaining $4.7 million on his contract over the next three years. The 37-year-old Blyleven had agreed to a two-year, $2.3 million deal back in July but refused to sign it when the Twins would not guarantee payment during a possible strike or lockout in 1990. Now Blyleven, 2-8 with a 7.36 ERA since the All-Star break, has lost value. At 41, Ryan is leading the National League in strikeouts with 211 and has pitched more innings (209) than anyone else on the Astros' staff. But Houston is likely to ask him to take a pay cut next year to help reduce its payroll. If that happens, Ryan has said he might retire. Says Sax, "Anybody who thinks that [he's getting old] should get a bat and helmet and try to hit him."
Though many of his peers think the White Sox' Jim Fregosi should be Manager of the Year for keeping his bargain-basement team out of the cellar, he may be the first manager to get the ax at the end of the season. The reason: his cool relationship with general manager Larry Himes. Fregosi shouldn't be out of a job for long, however. He could be hired by his old friend. Phillie general manager Lee Thomas, to replace manager Lee Elia, or he might return to the Angels if manager Cookie Rojas is dumped. Houston manager Hal Lanier will also probably be canned if the Astros don't win their division.
Then there is Cincinnati's Pete Rose. Club owner Marge Schott has been noncommittal all year about renewing his contract, but now she says she simply wants to cut his $500,000 salary. "We can't continue to pay him that kind of money, and 'we won't," says Schott. "He hasn't won anything. Nobody knows the names of [the players on]Sparky Anderson's team, and they've been up there all season."
SILLY RULES, PART II