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Labor mess just getting started

Special to

Nov. 10
"There's a little black spot on the sun today
The same old thing as yesterday?"
-- The Police

A month ago, baseball's banker went to Milwaukee, laid out the spreadsheets and told Bud Selig that his industry had drawn $4.5 billion worth of losses in the last few years and was in the process of losing another $500 million in the next calendar year. Obviously, things had to change. So Selig took it to the streets and announced his contraction plan that theoretically would begin to undo the economic nonsense of two shortsighted expansions.

And those streets are going to run red for the next month. The Players Association will savage Selig for his self-interests, right down to the minimal increase to his ticket (100,000 at best) and TV markets (parking-meter change compared to big markets) that the elimination of the Twins would produce for the Brewers, down from the P.A. credo that if one follows the line of negotiations, it always leads to what's best for Milwaukee, once a small market and now a medium market.

The owners will go hard after union chief Donald Fehr, and how his guild has always represented the richest players, not the "poor" whose minimum wage is $200,000. Fehr had never opposed contraction; he expressed the opinion during the 1994-95 winter that there were too many teams. Owners maintain that in his discussions with MLB officials Paul Beeston and Rob Manfred last spring, he signed on to the concept of contraction, and members of the Blue Ribbon Commission claim Fehr testified that he did not oppose contraction when he was interviewed by that group. Of course, that was when Fehr was asked his opinion, which he was not when Selig dropped the bomb that 97 percent of people in the baseball world knew was coming this past Tuesday.

The Players Association will try to go through every legal hoop -- from baseball arbitration to the courts to the National Labor Relations Board -- to stop it, and while MLB has a new law firm at his side, the fact is that Fehr, Gene Orza, Michael Weiner and the leaders of the Association have a history of winning all these battles and making MLB's legal eagles seem like law's Anthony Youngs. Because of that, the Association has never had to sit down and negotiate anything, at least not since Lee MacPhail negotiated a settlement to the one-day 1985 strike. This is what the union wants: to win in court, stall out their Four Corners Offensive Strategy, and force the owners to play 2002 with a rollover of the contract for 2001, which would maintain the status quo and give the players a huge bump in their pension benefits package. No responsibility.

If the owners can dart the legal coals thrown in front of them by Fehr, Orza and Weiner and force a negotiation, what they're seeking is to essentially negotiate chunks of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which included George Steinbrenner and Fred Wilpon in their meetings.

Here's what the owners want:

  • To contract two teams, Montreal and either Florida, Tampa Bay or Minnesota.

    Essentially, they feel there are several parts that have to be worked over the next few years, but one of them is not allowing Jeffrey Loria to move the Expos to the Northern Virginia area for many reasons, among them Orioles owner Peter Angelos' litigation, the feeling that Loria bought the Expos to move them and Washington D.C.'s unpreparedness for a new team at this point.

    Baseball has several problems. Montreal is hopeless. Minnesota is a mini-mart without a stadium, which owners think is like Houston, Cleveland or Baltimore in football -- primed for a move then a return when someone in another economy builds a viable ballpark. Florida and Tampa Bay are dead areas. Oakland must move, either around the Bay to San Jose, or somewhere else. And Washington D.C. needs a team, although baseball feels it must be downtown, a la owner Abe Polin of the NBA's Washington Wizards (who found nearly 70 percent of his audience gets to his arena via the Metro), and it is at least five years away from being ready. Eventually, owners know they will have to pay Angelos and Giants owner Peter Magowan reparations to put a team on the other side of D.C. and The Bay. But that's part of a broader scheme.

    Numbers and more numbers
    Guaranteed contractual obligations for potential contraction teams:
    Vladimir Guerrero: $8M, 2002; 9.5M 2003
    Graeme Lloyd: $2M, 2002
    Lee Stevens: $4M, 2002
    Fernando Tatis: $4.25M, 2002; $6.75M, 2003
    Jose Vidro: $4M, 2002; $5.5M, 2003; $7M, 2004

    Eddie Guardado: $1.8M, 2002; $2.5M, 2003
    Cristian Guzman: $1.4M, 2002; $2.5M, 2003; $3.7M, 2004
    LaTroy Hawkins: $2.3M, 2002
    Denny Hocking: $1.1M, 2002; $1.55M, 2003
    Corey Koskie: $2.1M, 2002; $3.4M, 2003
    Eric Milton: $3.85M, 2002; $6M, 2003; $9M, 2004
    Brad Radke: $8M, 2002, $8M, 2003; $10M, 2004
    Rick Reed: $7M, 2002; $8M, 2003; $8M, 2004
    Bob Wells: $1.7M, 2002

    Antonio Alfonseca: $3.55M, 2002
    Josh Beckett: $1.25M, 2002
    Matt Clement: $2.5M, 2002; $4M, 2003
    Vic Darensbourg: $775,000, 2002; $1.1M, 2003
    Cliff Floyd: $6.5M, 2002
    Charles Johnson: $5M, 2002; $7M, 2003
    Braden Looper: $800,000, 2002; $1.4M, 2003
    Mike Lowell: $2.3M, 2002; $3.7M, 2003
    Kevin Millar: $900,000, 2002
    Eric Owens: $2M, 2002
    Preston Wilson: $3.5M, 2002; $6M, 2003; $9M, 2004

    Arbitration eligible, major players:
    Michael Barrett, Super 2
    Orlando Cabrera, 3
    Javier Vazquez, 3
    Carl Pavano, 4

    Joe Mays, Super 2
    Torii Hunter, Super 2
    David Ortiz, 3

    Alex Gonzalez, 3
    Ryan Dempster, 3
    Derrek Lee, 3

    Top prospects not on the 40-man roster:
    Brandon Phillips, SS, Bats: Right, Throws: Right; 20; Wiry, 11 HR, 30 SB, .812 OPS in A-ball and Double-A
    Grady Sizemore, OF, Bats: Left, Throws: Right; 19; Athletic, 81/92 BB/K, .381 OBP
    Mark Watson, OF, Bats: Right, Throws: Right; 19; .872 OPS in Florida State League, 63 BB, 45 K
    Justin Wayne, RHP; 22; 11-5, 2.75, in A-ball and Double-A; third starter

    Joe Mauer, C, Bats: Left, Throws: Right; 18; 6-5, 220, No. 1 overall pick in draft; best catcher in minors
    Justin Morneau, 1B, Bats: Left, Throws: Right; 19; 6-4, 200; Young Paul O'Neill type player, .886 OPS in A-ball and Double-A
    B.J. Garbe, OF, Bats: Right, Throws: Right; 21; Andy Van Slyke type player

    Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Bats: Left, Throws: Left; 19; .312 BA, 103 RBI in Florida State League, great hitter
    Miguel Cabrera, SS, Bats: Right, Throws: Right; 18; 6-2, 220, smooth and has great power
    Denny Bautista, RHP; 18; 6-5, 170, dominated New York Penn League at the age of 18

    The owners want a dispersal draft and that will be a battle, as well. If it gets to one, the Players Association clearly wants players to have a choice of electing the pool or free agency. "There is no way owners are buying that," says one owner. OK. How about if all players with multiyear deals (see accompanying inline) can elect to be in the pool or be free agents? That way an under-market Vladimir Guerrero can hit the market, but Rick Reed or Lee Stevens can have his deal guaranteed and underwritten by MLB. "The owners will fight that to the gutters," says an MLB official. One thing is certain -- a dispersal draft will cause a ripple of interest in 28 teams, especially if the Pirates take Guerrero or Eric Milton or Josh Beckett and trade whichever one they choose to the Yankees for five players.

  • To get increased revenue sharing, which has to be agreed to by the Players Association, without two markets that drain the central funds.

  • An additional drag on salaries in the form of increased luxury taxes, which the players have fought in the past.

  • An international draft and a restructuring of the entire amateur draft, so that it caps spending and is restored to its original intent, which is to allow the weaker teams first crack at the best prospects, as happens in football and basketball.

    Meanwhile, owners hope that the paralysis in the industry -- one agent compared Selig's announcement to a terrorist attack perpetrated to spread fear throughout the players -- has an impact that slows down the industry and, if they ever get to the table, pushes the union lawyers to a deal.

    "The economic figures we had thrown at us were staggering," said one general manager on Friday night, upon returning from two days of meetings in Chicago. "This is not a pretty picture. We talked about it -- how many teams really have much cash to spend other than the Yankees, Mariners and maybe the Rangers? Not many."

    Players and their lawyers don't understand this, but the fact is that the national economy has to have a dramatic impact on the market. Before this week, club marketing offices have been told to expect a downturn of 20-40 percent in corporate sponsorship, luxury box and season-ticket investments. No salary arbitrator is going to care, but that is a lot of money.

    The insurance industry is putting the clamps down on baseball. "With the restrictions they're putting on exemptions -- for instance, if a player has a history of back injuries, they won't cover any back injury -- as well as the incredible increase in premiums and the new limit to three years of coverage," says one general manager, "there is a dampening effect on all our signings."

    The fact that MLB doesn't have a schedule, a clear alignment of their leagues (where will Arizona end up?) and no ticket or marketing plans because of the uncertainty, is another drain. The Giants, for instance, had 29,000 season tickets last season. If this thing keeps dragging on, they could face a 20 percent reduction, which means they likely won't be able to afford Barry Bonds and Jason Schmidt.

    "There is almost no trade movement, because no one is sure what the economy is going to be and whether or not they can get help through the dispersal draft," says a GM. "No movement makes players uneasy, and it's not the general managers' doing, it's the real world."

    So one theory is that Selig's scorched landscape will push the players to worry, about jobs, about security, about edging towards that $3 million average salary -- and adding a couple of $200,000 jobs isn't going to satisfy them.

    Selig did not threaten either a signing freeze or a lockout, which management claims is a sign of his good will. Labor lawyers think that the ploy may be to reach an impasse and impose a system that the players either accept or strike, which management lawyers claim is a comical fear, since impasses are practically impossible to reach and MLB lawyers failed the last time they tried to get one on Dec. 22, 1994 (a day that will live in infamy).

    So the top free agents should not be impacted. Jason Giambi may get signed by the Yankees as soon as the dead period is over. Barry Bonds? Until the clever utilization of the New York media by brilliant agent Scott Boras ends and the dollars have to go on the table, we will not know if the Mets are actually in it (three Yankee plants have already been printed, despite the fact that Brian Cashman has declared no interest), or if they'll do the Moises Alou thing and move on to spreading their cash elsewhere. Texas is expected to go after Chan Ho Park and Steve Karsay.

    But otherwise, Cleveland is cutting its payroll from $95 million to $78 million, with $14 million worth of uncertain or bad contracts in Jaret Wright, Charles Nagy and Wil Cordero. Los Angeles has to cut, with $18-30 million in dead contracts. Boston can't get back to a $110 million payroll until its ownership situation is settled, and there are some real bad contracts there (Jose Offerman, $8.4 million for 2002 with a buyout for 2003).

    "Why overspend for a free agent," says one AL GM, "if you have a shot at Jose Vidro or Tony Armas, Mike Cuddyer or Corey Koskie, Brad Penny or Preston Wilson? Those are three teams with a lot of talent, and the Twins and Marlins run deep."

    Selig made his announcement in the bowels of the O'Hare Hyatt Hotel in suburban Chicago. It was there, in 1990, that the owners took their stand and declared that unless the players accepted "Pay For Performance," there would be a lockout, which there was, to nobody's benefit except. The next time the owners had one of their meetings in that hotel, they voted to effectively end the reign of a good man named Fay Vincent, only to be stunned when one owner with guts stepped before the media and condemned his fellow travelers -- Texas owner George W. Bush.

    This time, it was contraction. As Selig walked the halls to the announcement two days after the conclusion of an historic World Series, he appeared to be the King of Angst, prompting a suggested musical accompaniment ("There's a little black spot on the sun today ... It's my soul up there ... It's the same old thing as yesterday ... it's my destiny to be the King of Pain").

    Is this Pay for Performance, or any of those crazy concepts that Richard Ravitch or Ray Grebey or other fun-loving negotiating predecessors threw at the players? Or is this real?

    The only thing we know is that in the end, the real game is played by the lawyers, and with their hourly fees, there are no losers, except those that actually like baseball.

    Looking back to 1997
    Less than five years after the last dumbest thing -- the 1997 Expansion Draft -- there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the whole thing. Of the 420 players protected, 107 have continuous service with those teams. Of the 70 players selected by the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks, four remain with their clubs.

    And when one looks at some of the protection lists -- players passed over and players selected -- one realizes that not only isn't there much talent beyond the top players, but Padres owner John Moores' idea to have a re-entry draft with each club protecting 25-30 players from its organization is a great idea to add to the leveling mix.

    20 players you'll never believe were protected
    RHP Robinson Checo, Boston (brought to you by the same people who told Jimy Williams, "Sang Lee will be your closer")
    LHP Ron Mahay, Boston
    RHP Marc Kroon, San Diego
    Inf. Juan Melo, San Diego
    C Bobby Henley, Montreal
    C Pat Cline, Cubs
    3B Kevin Orie, Cubs
    OF Derrick Gibson, Colorado
    LHP Alan Embree, Atlanta
    RHP Jim Crowell, Cincinnati
    1B Kevin Witt, Toronto
    RHP Pep Harris, Anaheim
    OF Norm Hutchins, Anaheim
    OF Danny Clyburn, Baltimore
    RHP Mike Drumright, Detroit
    LHP Roberto Duran, Detroit
    RHP Jim Pittsley, Kansas City
    Inf. Felix Martinez, Kansas City
    OF Shane Monahan, Seattle
    RHP Jonathan Johnson, Texas

    Players who were unprotected, not pulled back and completely ignored
    C Jason Varitek, Boston
    C Einar Diaz, Cleveland
    RHP Todd Ritchie, Minnesota
    RHP Joe Mays, Seattle
    RHP Jose Lima, Houston
    C Paul Lo Duca, Los Angeles
    RHP Luke Prokopec, Los Angeles
    2B Bret Boone, Cincinnati
    RHP Matt Mantei, Florida
    OF Jay Payton, N.Y. Mets
    RHP Jose Jimenez, St. Louis
    LHP John Rocker, Atlanta

    Players unprotected, then pulled back
    OF Torii Hunter, Minnesota (1). Twins lost OF Brent Brede
    RHP Derek Lowe, Boston (1). Red Sox lost RHP Jeff Suppan
    OF Trot Nixon, Boston (2). Then lost RHP Jim Mecir
    RHP Rick Helling, Texas (1). Rangers lost Inf. Ed Diaz
    1B Richie Sexson, Cleveland (2). Indians lost LHP Brian Anderson and RHP Albie Lopez
    RHP Antonio Alfonseca, Florida (2). Marlins lost LHPs Tony Saunders and Mike Duvall
    RHP Freddy Garcia, Houston (1) Astros lost OF Bobby Abreu
    Inf. Carlos Guillen, Houston (1)
    2B Jose Vidro, Montreal (1). Expos lost LHP Neil Weber
    3B Todd Zeile, 1B Eric Karros, L.A. (1). Dodgers lost OF Karim Garcia

    What the D-Backs and Devil Rays did with those picks
    After surveying what was out there, Buck Showalter, Sandy Johnson and the Arizona folks knew they couldn't build much with what was available. So, they set out to draft players they thought might be attractive to other teams. Here are a few of their moves:

    Traded 3B Joe Randa and Gabe Alvarez to Detroit for 3B Travis Fryman, then traded Fryman and drafted LHP Tom Martin to Cleveland for 3B Matt Williams
    Traded OF Karim Garcia to Detroit for OF Luis Gonzalez
    Traded RHP Marty Janzen for Andy Fox, Fox was then dealt for OF Danny Bautista
    Traded RHP Jason Boyd to Pittsburgh for SS Tony Womack
    Traded LHP Omar Daal (along with 1B Travis Lee, RHP Vicente Padilla and RHP Nelson Figueroa ) for RHP Curt Schilling
    Traded LHP Jesus Martinez to Florida for OF Devon White

    Tampa Bay
    Traded OF Bobby Abreu to Philadelphia for SS Kevin Stocker
    Traded RHP Jason Johnson to Baltimore for OF Danny Clyburn
    Traded RHP Brian Boehringer and SS Andy Sheets to San Diego for C John Flaherty
    Traded OF Bubba Trammell (with RHP Rick White) to the Mets for RHP Paul Wilson and OF Jason Tyner
    Traded Dmitri Young to Cincinnati for OF Mike Kelly
    Traded RHP Jim Mecir to Oakland for RHP Jesus Colome
    Traded RHP Albie Lopez to Arizona for LHP Nick Bierbrodt

    Remaining picks
    Arizona starting C Damian Miller
    Arizona OF David Dellucci
    Tampa RHP Esteban Yan
    Tampa 1B Steve Cox

    A few final thoughts

  • How great is the shot in the latest Rolling Stone Magazine of Bob Dylan reading Baseball Weekly in a convenience store? A Dodger is on the cover. Is he whistling, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue?" One asks that because an AL executive offered the opinion that the thinnest organization in the NL in terms of minor-league talent is L.A., insisting that Anaheim, Boston and Baltimore -- in that order -- are in a class of their own at the bottom of the 30 teams.


  • Don't think David Dellucci's stock hasn't risen since his peers found out he's dating "Sheena" star -- and Playboy covergirl -- Gina Lee Nolin. "We also love Dave," says a teammate, "because he believes wrestling is real."

  • Good friend Dave Shenin is right -- Ryan Adams' "Gold" belongs right up there at the top of any fall CD derby.

  • No takers yet on John Rocker. Notice that he went unprotected and ignored in the '97 draft, and now he's almost come back down to that level.

  • The D-Backs official who decided to play "New York, New York" after Game 6 should be fired, for all the layers of baseball, Sept. 11, respect and traditional reasons there are.

  • It should be taken as good news for the Tigers that Brandon Inge is off to a .421 BA, .500 OBP start in the Dominican Winter League, that Rangers rookie Carlos Pena is tied for the league lead in homers with three and that Greg LaRocca, who finished the season playing for the Indians' Triple-A team in Buffalo, is leading the Mexican Pacific League in homers (9), OPS (1.205) and batting average (.352). LaRocca will go to spring training in February with the Indians bidding for a utility infield job.

  • Baseball America reminder: Detroit, San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland were judged to have the best drafts from last June. Boston was rated to have the worst; no surprise there. Ah, but Michael Coleman may return as a minor-league free agent. All is not lost for the Red Sox.

  • A reminder going into the free-agent season: In the last five years, of the starting pitchers who spent 31 to 80 days on the disabled list prior to their new multiyear contracts, 83 percent suffered injuries during their new contracts. Of the pitchers who had not spent a day on the DL prior to their contracts, 85 percent did not spend a day on the DL in the terms of their new contracts. It's called history.

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  • Lawyer: Contraction to take place by Dec. 15's contraction coverage

    Gammons: Chasing Giambi

    Gammons: column archive
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