Some conspiracy theoreticians in Seattle are beginning to wonder if the Mariners are predestined to move into the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla., area.
The reason: the prominence of Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf on the ownership committee that likely will shoot down a bid by the president of Nintendo Co. to buy the team and keep it in the Pacific Northwest.
Reinsdorf and the White Sox used Tampa/St. Petersburg for leverage when they were negotiating for a new stadium in Chicago, and there have been rumors that Reinsdorf assured officials in that area that they eventually would get a team.
Though Reinsdorf insists that he is under no obligation to anyone, the ownership committee's apparent resistance to a Seattle-based Japanese owner has left him open to the innuendo. He hasn't done much to alleviate the situation.
"I don't feel an obligation there," Reinsdorf told reporters recently, "but I do feel Tampa should have a team."
Forgive Mariners fans if they didn't find that particularly comforting. Look for Oliver Stone to buy the movie rights if the club moves to Florida.
Millionaires on parade: The Baltimore Orioles aren't the only team with a franchise player nearing the end of his contract. Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg can become a free agent at the end of this season, and it appears that his contract negotiations are moving even slower than Cal Ripken's.
The Cubs face the same dilemma as the Orioles. If Cincinnati Reds middle infielder Barry Larkin is worth more than $5 million per year, what price Sandberg, who has 66 home runs and 200 RBI over the past two seasons?
Sandberg is keeping a low profile, but he has said in the past that he might suspend negotiations if they stretch into the 1992 season.
It seems inconceivable that Sandberg would ever leave the Cubs -- almost as inconceivable as Ripken's wearing another uniform. But recent history is full of instances in which players with
seemingly unshakable loyalty have jumped ship.
Rumor central: Rumors persist that the Orioles are interested in free-agent infielder Kurt Stillwell, though the price should be proof enough that there is nothing to them. The San Diego Padres have a standing offer to Stillwell that could be worth as much as $5.8 million over three years. He'd like to do better, and other teams are rumored to be involved in negotiations, but the Orioles apparently are not one of them. A club official said that there was a conversation with agent Scott Boras several weeks ago, but no offer was extended to Stillwell and none is planned.
The boom and the backlash: There has been growing speculation that the tremendous contracts signed recently by premier free agents Bobby Bonilla, Danny Tartabull and Larkin represent another giant step toward a "Hollywood" star system, in which a select number of players earn fantastic sums while the overwhelming majority are paid at the low end of baseball's salary scale.
This has been used as an explanation for the high number of veteran players who have been forced to sign minor-league contracts. The Houston Astros will open spring training with 12 non-roster players who have major-league experience, including Doug Jones, Pete Incaviglia, Ernest Riles, Rob Murphy and Joe Boever. The California Angels will have nine.
Many teams appear to be subsidizing the high cost of their front-line players by filling out their rosters with minimum-salaried prospects, so the market for the veteran players in the middle is very soft.
Former Astros pitcher Jim Deshaies is a good example of a veteran player who found little market for his services this year. He earned $2.1 million for a disappointing 1991 season but had to settle for a $100,000 guarantee from the Oakland Athletics and the potential to make $1.1 million with incentives if he rises above his non-roster status. He has taken his step back in good humor.
SG "I can probably make a go of it on $1.1 million," he said recently.
Farewell to arms?: The Atlanta Braves again are high on a concept they call "Operation head start," a 10-day pre-training camp program for their pitching staff. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone proudly points out that not one of the club's top four starters had to miss a start from Opening Day to the final game of the World Series. The four -- Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, John Smoltz and Charlie Leibrandt -- combined to pitch 1,013 innings, the most by a club's top four starters since the 1980 Athletics. But while the congratulations are being passed around, it might also be prudent to note that the promising young rotation that carried the A's in 1980 and 1981 soon would disintegrate -- at least in part because of overwork.
Sites and opening workout dates for pitchers/catchers and
California Angels, Mesa, Feb. 21, Feb. 26.
Chicago Cubs, Mesa, Feb. 22, Feb. 27.
Cleveland Indians, Tucson, Feb. 21, Feb. 26.
Milwaukee Brewers, Chandler, Feb. 21, Feb. 27.
Oakland Athletics, Phoenix, Feb. 22, Feb. 26.