WHAT WOULD the new U.S. President do to clean up baseball's fiscal landscape? "Get rid of arbitration," former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush said last week. That's pretty much the consensus among baseball management about the national pastime's ugly season, when teams and players who can't agree on contracts butt heads in front of independent arbitrators. Last week 63 players exchanged salary figures with their clubs in anticipation of hearings that will be held in Phoenix from Feb. 1 to 21. Here's our take on five high-profile cases.
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Asked for: $18.5 million. Was offered: $14.25 million. His request was an arbitration record but still fell $2.5 million below what Alex Rodriguez will earn in 2001. No mediator will be needed to sort this one out: Expect Jeter and the Yanks to close a long-term deal before they get close to the arbitrator's table. Predicted winner: both.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees
Asked for: $10.25 million. Was offered: $9 million. Rivera's $7.25 million award last year was an arbitration record—and he lost. The arguments are much the same this time around: He's the game's best closer, and the Yanks' offer will again make him the highest paid. Predicted winner: Yankees.
Andruw Jones, Braves
Asked for: $8.2 million. Was offered: $6.4 million. When does a multimillionaire deserve a 120% raise? When he's 23, the game's best defensive centerfielder and coming off career highs in every major offensive category. In a market in which past-his-prime Kenny Lofton will make $8 million, Jones's request is a bargain. Predicted winner: Jones.
Pokey Reese, Reds
Asked for: $3.6 million. Was offered: $2.7 million. Last year's average arbitration raise was $915,000; Cincinnati's offer to Reese, who won his second straight Gold Glove and stole 29 bases in 32 attempts, represents a bump of only $750,000. Plus, Jose Vidro's four-year, $19 million deal with the Expos raised Reese's market value. Predicted winner: Reese.
John Rocker, Braves
Asked for: $2.98 million. Was offered: $1.9 million. The controversial closer was back to his dominating self by the end of last season, when he made a relatively paltry $290,000. Still, off-the-field concerns often affect arbitrators' decisions. Predicted winner: Braves.