The Red Sox couldn't keep free agents Bruce Hurst or Nick Esasky from leaving town. And Boston is a big moneymaker; the Expos are not. "With all the talent we have in our farm system, we can rebuild and be respectable," says Expo vice-president Bill Stoneman. "But, frankly, one wonders what we can do in Montreal. We can only go so far."
Bronfman is reportedly so frustrated that he wants to sell the team, but there are no interested parties in Montreal. Don't be surprised if an investment group in Orlando or St. Petersburg makes a bid for the franchise after the first of the year. The Pirates, Indians (who have little chance of re-signing Carter), Reds (who could lose Eric Davis, Danny Jackson, John Franco and Tom Browning to free agency next November) and Tigers could also suffer a talent drain in the early '90s. "It's crazy the way these salaries have gone," says Dombrowski. "If someone had told me these figures in September, I'd have laughed. In time, the industry will pay."
However, as Reich points out, similar doomsday predictions have been made in the past, but the industry has gotten richer and richer, and the game has set attendance records for the last five years in a row. The market value of franchises has also climbed sharply in the last 10 years. Last summer, for example, George Argyros, who bought the Seattle Mariners for $13 million in 1981, sold them for $77 million—and they had never had a winning season. "The question is whether or not too much is based on the speculative values of teams," says one general manager. "Is a team worth a hundred or two hundred million dollars? That's what owners are gambling on, and like the gold market, it can collapse because of its artificiality."
One result of the lavish spending may be the avoidance of a strike. When Barry Rona stepped down last week as executive director of the Player Relations Committee, several general managers said they felt he was frustrated by his employers, who, on the one hand, were throwing millions at free agents and, on the other, asking him to get the Players Association to agree to a wage scale for players in their first six years based on a dubious set of statistics. One club president called the proposal "idiocy." And Hendricks says, "It is a pitifully veiled attempt to get rid of agents."
The owners appear confused about what they want from a new contract, which would replace the four-year Basic Agreement that expires Dec. 31, and it's going to be hard for them to cry poor when they're throwing so much money around. For their part, the players are happy with the status quo. They could well start the season without a new contract and agree not to strike, which would mean that the owners could not legally lock them out. At any rate, eventual agreement on a contract similar to the current one seems likely. As one general manager puts it, "[Commissioner] Fay Vincent is an entertainment guy who understands entertainment labor. The labor-management atmosphere is likely to improve."
Meanwhile, the play-money game goes on. Tony Pena had 37 RBIs last year? O.K., he's worth $6.4 million for three years to the Red Sox. Candy Maldonado hit .217? Fine, the Indians will give him $825,000 next year. Gary Pettis knocked in 18 runs all season? Then $2.66 million over three years from the Rangers should do him fine.
Step aside, Mr. Langston. The fun has just begun.