Arbitration lone certainty in Milligan's future

BASEBALL

February 16, 1992|By PETER SCHMUCK

Spring training is just days away, and Baltimore Orioles first baseman Randy Milligan doesn't know if he's coming or going.

The only destination he's reasonably sure of is Chicago, where he is scheduled for a salary arbitration showdown with the club on Tuesday. The outcome of that case could have a bearing on more than just his future earnings.

The club seems adamant about holding down his salary, even though the likelihood of the Orioles paying a penny of it next year seems remote. But there is a method to their miserliness, because his trade value figures to go south as his salary heads north.

"We're definitely going to Chicago," Milligan said. "They don't have anything to lose."

That may sound ridiculous in these days of $6 million salaries, but the money Milligan and the club are fighting over -- he is seeking $1.4 million, the Orioles are offering $900,000 -- is more significant than you might think. The economic escalator that is taking baseball salaries through the roof may be stuck in overdrive when it comes to superstar-quality players, but it is forcing clubs to take a harder look at what they pay the rest of the players.

Milligan at $1.4 million would be a bargain by today's standards if he plays every day and drives in 90 runs, but he isn't going to play every day in Baltimore, and there aren't that many other teams that consider first base to be a priority.

The California Angels seemed like a possibility until Thursday, when they signed free-agent first baseman Alvin Davis to a one-year contract worth $800,000. The deal illustrated just how soft the market is for first basemen, though it probably cannot be submitted for comparison in Tuesday's hearing.

Milligan had a better 1991 season than Davis, who batted .221 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI, but the difference is offset by the impressive numbers compiled by Davis in his previous seven major-league seasons. He has averaged 20 home runs and 83 RBI during his career, numbers that Milligan has yet to match in a single season.

The Orioles were hoping that Milligan would bring them a solid pitcher when general manager Roland Hemond went to the winter meetings in December. Now, it seems, they are left to hope that a contending team suffers a loss this spring and is forced to up the ante to acquire a solid run-producer. Milligan must do the same because he is not enthusiastic about a part-time role inBaltimore.

"I've been through this before," he said. "I can see what's going on. I can see how they are building the team . . . how they are going through the negotiations. I'm not in their plans."

The inevitability of the arbitration hearing is -- to Milligan -- just more proof of the inevitability of his eventual departure from Baltimore.

"They have a first baseman that is part of their future," Milligan said. "They have two guys in Sam [Horn] and [Dwight] Evans that are the DHs. And they have David Segui. My time here is pretty much over."

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More salary stuff: Center fielder Mike Devereaux also is scheduled for a salary arbitration hearing on Tuesday, but his situation is not nearly as complicated as Milligan's. Devereaux asked for $1.075 million, and the club bid $875,000, leaving a $200,000 salary gap that should have been bridged weeks ago. One way or the other, he'll be starting in center field for the Orioles come Opening Day.

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Dream on: Baseball's salary spiral is about to top out, if you believe the doomsayers who claim that television revenues have already reached their peak. But there is one reason to believe it will be years before there is any significant downward pressure on baseball salaries.

Salary arbitration.

The system has built-in price support, since arbitration decisions are heavily influenced by comparative salaries, and the financial position of the club cannot be entered into evidence.

That's why baseball ownership would love to scrap the system )) and implement a revenue-sharing plan. The way things stand

now, the salary spiral is almost irreversible.

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What a difference a decade makes: According to the Rolaids Relief Man team standings, the Oakland Athletics have had the best relief corps during the past 10 years, averaging nearly 118 points per season since 1982. Not surprisingly, the worst team was the Cleveland Indians, with an average of 77 points. The Orioles rank 20th during the past 10 years, with an average of 91 Rolaids points.

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Endangered stadium: The Milwaukee Brewers still hope to break ground on a new stadium in time to move in for the 1995 season, but it doesn't look good. Remember how the project was delayed when geologists discovered a 400 million-year-old rock formation on the stadium site? Well, now it has been revealed that the area also serves as habitat for an endangered species of wildflower. The way things are going, it's only a matter of time before archaeologists uncover a paleolithic bratwurst stand.

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