Yankees' big-bucks signing gives draft a chilling effect to poor teams

BASEBALL

September 01, 1991|By PETER SCHMUCK

The New York Yankees gave in to the demands of No. 1 draft choice Brien Taylor and, in the process, heaped a little more financial frustration on baseball's small-market teams.

Taylor's $1.55 million contract left the Milwaukee Brewers wondering how they will be able to compete for young talent, especially after their No. I pick, Kenny Henderson (No. 5 overall), turned down a $500,000 offer and enrolled at the University of Miami.

It was the second time in four years that the Brewers have failed to sign their top pick. They let pitcher Alex Fernandez get away over a $50,000 difference of opinion in 1988 and have lived to regret it. This time, they never were close.

Henderson and agent Scott Boras apparently used the $1.2 million contract signed by 1990 No. 1 pick Todd Van Poppel as their standard of comparison, but the Taylor deal may have broken the million-dollar barrier for good.

The $500,000 contract offered to Henderson would have ranked among the richest ever given to a baseball draft choice, but it paled next to Taylor's record take. The Brewers say they can't go wallet-to-wallet with the large-market teams, whether it be for top-name free agents or high school prospects They, and a lot of other clubs, believe the erratic Yankees front office has upset the game's salary structure again.

Brewers owner Bud Selig, who viewed the draft as a last refuge of small-market equality, says the salary spiral will further widen the quality gap between baseball's richest and more modest teams.

"As [Houston Astros general manager] Bill Wood said, the draft has always been the great hope of the small-market teams," Selig told reporters recently. "We'll just have to be more clever and work harder."

Meanwhile, back in New York, the Taylor contract has come under fire from none other than the banished Boss himself. Exiled owner George Steinbrenner openly second-guessed GM Gene Michael for caving in to the young pitcher's demands.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I have paid that kid a million and a half," Steinbrenner said in an interview published Thursday by Newsday. This, only a few days after he told the same newspaper that Michael "ought to be shot" if he failed to sign Taylor.

Seemed like old times. Steinbrenner, who may have undermined the Taylor negotiations with his earlier comments, laid the blame squarely on Michael, who defended himself during an informal news conference on Thursday.

"If he was here, he would have signed him," Michael said. "I guarantee you, we did the right thing."

Give some credit to Boras and Taylor's wily mom, who played the troubled Yankees front office against itself to get what they wanted.

Since the Baltimore Orioles are close to conceding that rookie Arthur Rhodes will need a year of seasoning at the Class AAA level, it seems likely that the club will survey the free-agent market again this winter in search of a pitcher to anchor the starting rotation.

But who? The club probably isn't willing to go the distance and sign a pitcher the caliber of a Frank Viola, and it would make little sense to spend millions to get someone who might not have a significant impact on the fortunes of the club.

The answer may lie in California, where Angels right-hander Kirk McCaskill is having a disappointing option year.

McCaskill is a quality starter who might have to settle for less, which is just what the Orioles figure to offer. He is an East Coast guy (University of Vermont) who has a history of contractual differences with the Angels front office. He just might be the pitching bargain (in relative terms, of course) Roland Hemond will be looking for.

Here's my Top 10 list of reasons Baltimore should grant the Orioles an ex post facto rent rollback:

10: City would just squander the money on education or law enforcement.

9: If rent had been lower last year, we'd have Franklin Stubbs now.

8: Club needs money to sign more minor-league free agents.

7: If the Orioles don't get a rent reduction, they are going to move out of Memorial Stadium at the end of the year and find a new place to play.

6: City budget crisis just more proof that financially sound Orioles organization better suited to handle public funds.

5: Funds needed for Fan Appreciation Day. First 30,000 fans will receive a $1,000 savings bond. (It will be up to them to decide how they want to split it up.)

4: What are a few potholes among friends?

3: Esskay-Crown Oil-Toyota-Coca-Cola-98 Rock batting glove promotion cost $3 million more than anticipated.

2: Where would you rather go? The ballgame or the library?

1: Money needed to lobby for rent reduction at new stadium.

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell still is burning over the way the Boston media handled his pre-game altercation with teammate Mo Vaughn.

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