- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On Dec. 5. the day baseball's 1988 winter meetings officially opened at Atlanta's Marriott Marquis Hotel, Rennie Stennett was milling around the lobby looking for a job—as a player. Remember Stennett? In December '79 the San Francisco Giants signed him to a five-year, $3 million contract, even though he was hampered by leg injuries and had hit no homers and had only 24 RBIs for the Pittsburgh Pirates the previous season. In '80, Stennett, an infielder, played 120 games and knocked in 37 runs, but San Francisco let him go after he got only seven RBIs in 38 games the following season. In so doing, the Giants, of course, ended up having to buy out his contract.
Stennett is 37 now, and he hasn't played in the majors since his release, but given the wild way the owners were throwing money around last week, who could blame him for showing up? As one general manager said, "If he'd stayed a couple of more days, [California Angels executive vice-president] Jackie Autry might have given him a million dollars."
Stennett's presence evoked memories of how out of control the free-agent market got in the 1970s and early '80s. "Remember how crazy things were back then?" says Peter Bavasi, a former executive for numerous teams and now president of Telerate Sports's Sports Ticker. Bavasi recalls it as a time when Autry's husband, Gene, the owner of the Angels, was so eager to land pitcher Catfish Hunter that he hired someone to hand out autographed copies of Autry's recording of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer in Ahoskie, N.C., a few miles from Hunter's farm.
And by all appearances those crazy days are back. After nearly three years of what commissioner Peter Ueberroth has euphemistically called "fiscal restraint," the once moribund free-agent market has reerupted into a full-scale bidding war. And this time a lot more money is involved. Here are some of the deals that were struck during the meetings or in the days leading up to them:
•The New York Yankees guaranteed pitcher Andy Hawkins $3.6 million—$1.6 million more than anyone else—for three years, even though he has a history of shoulder trouble and a modest 60-58 career record.
•The Boston Red Sox gave their catcher Rich Gedman a one-year, $1.15 million contract, despite the fact that no other team expressed interest in him.
•The Texas Rangers outbid the Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Cleveland Indians and Montreal Expos in agreeing to pay their shortstop Scott Fletcher $3.9 million over three years. Last season Fletcher didn't hit any homers and had only 23 extra-base hits.
•The Indians landed reliever Jesse Orosco, who's widely perceived to be over the hill, with a two-year, $1.675 million deal, after everyone else was passing on him.
•Outfielder Jeffrey Leonard, whom the Milwaukee Brewers had let go, signed a two-year, $1.75 million contract with the heretofore ultraparsimonious Seattle Mariners.
A number of big trades were also made at the meetings. Most notably, the Dodgers acquired slugger Eddie Murray from the Baltimore Orioles, and the Rangers landed second baseman Julio Franco from the Indians and outfielder Rafael Palmeiro from the Chicago Cubs. But what dominated the meetings was the scramble to unload millions on this year's bumper crop of free agents.