NEW YORK -- Last winter, Oil Can Boyd was a free agent, but he was a risk because he spent four months on the disabled list last season and he had put in more time on the disabled list (332 days) in the previous three seasons than he had on the active roster (214 days).
John Tudor was a free agent, too, and he was also questionable. Before the 1989 season, he had a series of operations on a shoulder, elbow and knee, and during the season he had continuing shoulder problems that limited him to six games.
Two teams, the Montreal Expos and the St. Louis Cardinals, decided to take the risk and sign the free-agent pitchers, but they did so with creative contracts. Then Boyd and Tudor became creative and made their incomes grow. Boyd began with a guaranteed $400,000 and has now earned $1.26 million. Tudor has parlayed $350,000 into $950,000.
In the next 10 days, Boyd should earn an additional $315,000. Tudor, if the Cardinals use him, could pick up an extra $200,000.
Some clubs resist doing what the Expos and the Cardinals did, but the deals made eminent sense and have proved productive for the players and the clubs.
The contracts were based on relatively small salaries (in Tudor's case, it wasn't even guaranteed) and signing bonuses and considerably more money in bonuses based on such things as games and innings pitched and days spent on the active roster.
Boyd started with a $300,000 salary and a $100,000 signing bonus. Given his recent record of disabled-list time (60 percent of 1987-88-89), the Expos gave Boyd a clause that pays him $100,000 for every 30 days he is on the active roster. Enjoying his healthiest season since 1986, Boyd has earned $500,000 for the first 150 days of the season and will add the final $100,000 when the season ends.
Then there is his bonus for starts or innings pitched. He has made 29 starts and pitched 180 innings, meaning he has earned three $100,000 bonuses ($100,000 each for 24, 26, and 28 starts). He added $100,000 when he made his scheduled 30th start on Sunday and should earn the last $100,000 because he should have two more starts.
However much money Boyd earns, he will receive an additional 5 percent because, like some other members of the Expos, he has a tax clause that provides additional payment to defray the higher income tax in Montreal.
Boyd's last three starts are important to him beyond the bonuses he can earn. His contract has an option for next season, and it vests automatically if he starts 30 games or pitches 200 innings.
"We would exercise the option anyway," Dave Dombrowski, the Expos' general manager, said. But if Boyd reaches the 32-start mark, which he should do the final day of the season, his salary next season would be $1.75 million instead of $1.5 million.
Boyd has not just been healthy. The 30-year-old right-hander has a 10-5 record and a 2.84 earned run average, best among Montreal's starters and one of the best in the National League. He has had 14 no-decision starts.
"He struggled early," Dombrowski said, "but he's done a real good job for us. He's pitched better than the pitchers we lost as free agents. He's not as hard a thrower as he used to be, but he knows how to pitch."
Boyd has also tamed himself somewhat, avoiding the tantrums that used to accompany some of his losses.
"He hasn't had a real blowup," Dombrowski said. "He's emotional and he's a fiery competitor. He's a plus in that regard. A lot of our veteran players are quiet individuals. He adds a spark."
Tudor, who encountered some shoulder problems this season, added stability to the St. Louis staff. He has a 12-4 record and a 2.40 ERA.
The 36-year-old left-hander signed for a non-guaranteed $250,000 salary and a $100,000 signing bonus. He earned an instant $100,000 for his first start and since has added bonuses at three levels based on points (two for a start, one for a relief appearance).
He has 47 points, giving him $500,000, and he can earn another $200,000 if he gets 3 more points.
Both pitchers have one more bonus they can earn, but they both can't earn it. Each has a clause calling for $50,000 if he is named comeback player of the year.