Smiley's happy NL return nets $18M

December 01, 1992|By Jim Caple | Jim Caple,Knight-Ridder News Service

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- While Kirby Puckett added Philadelphia t his world tour yesterday, John Smiley took a hefty raise to return to the National League and pitch for Marge Schott and the Cincinnati Reds.

Smiley, who led Minnesota Twins starters in innings pitched, earned run average and tied for the lead in victories last season, signed a four-year contract with the Reds worth $18.4 million. Smiley said he wanted to return to the National League, where he spent his entire career before being traded to Minnesota last March.

And while Minnesota's rotation was taking a hit in Cincinnati, Puckett was in Philadelphia with his agent, Ron Shapiro, where the two met with Phillies general manager Bill Giles. This came one day after Puckett and Shapiro met with the Red Sox in Boston. Neither was available for comment yesterday.

The Twins dealt for Smiley in spring training, hoping he would be the key to repeating as world champions. They fell short of that goal, and in recent days the Twins had been pessimistic about re-signing Smiley for next year. Yesterday's signing still was surprising because the pitcher was rumored to have a better offer from the Cubs, and Schott is the center of controversy.

"John Smiley had the opportunity to make more money someplace else but it was more important for him to be with a team that he would prefer to play with than make more money," Smiley's agent, Randy Hendricks, told reporters on a conference call. "So we decided to take this offer rather than shop the market infinitum."

Smiley, who earned $3.4 million with the Twins last season, will receive a $1.5 million signing bonus and earn $3.1 million next season. He'll earn $4.6 million each of the subsequent three seasons.

Minnesota general manager Andy MacPhail said the Twins were not given an opportunity to counter Cincinnati's offer. The Twins felt Smiley was out of their range when his price tag rose about $16 million for four years.

A major factor in the Twins' signing another pitcher is how much money they have left after the Puckett and Greg Gagne negotiations. It either will be a little or a lot, depending on where Puckett signs.

Philadelphia would seem an odd fit for Puckett. Not only would it mean a switch to the National League, the Phillies already have Lenny Dykstra in center. Giles also has set a budget of $26.5 million.

It is unusual for a player to travel with his agent to prospective cities, but there are several possible explanations. One, Puckett feels he must demonstrate to the Twins he is serious about going somewhere else if their offer doesn't come up -- and soon. Two, because Puckett is so identified with Minnesota, he must demonstrate to other teams he is earnest about considering other offers.

Shapiro, a Baltimorean who also represents Cal Ripken, is keeping as silent as possible about any negotiations. He has an excellent reputation among agents and owners, and once worked for the Red Sox publicity office while in college.

The Red Sox also have been contacted by agent Tom Reich about signing designated hitter Chili Davis.

Smiley is joining a team that may soon be without an owner. Schott's alleged racist comments have prompted an investigation by major-league baseball, and speculation is high that her fellow owners will suspend or ban her from the game, possibly as early as today.

Smiley said the controversy did not affect his decision.

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