Devereaux asks O's for $3.6 million Filing figure higher than team expected

January 20, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Orioles center fielder Mike Devereaux, who nearly doubled his previous career high with 107 RBI last year, hopes to nearly quadruple his salary in arbitration next month.

Devereaux asked for $3.6 million when arbitration-eligible players and their clubs exchanged salary figures yesterday -- $850,000 more than the Orioles offered. Teammate Todd Frohwirth, the only other unsigned Oriole who is eligible for arbitration, asked for $1.15 million and the team countered at $800,000.

The Frohwirth numbers are close enough that a settlement seems likely, but Devereaux surprised the Orioles with a figure that was the second highest filed by a non-pitcher in the four-year service class. If he wins, he'll earn nearly twice as much as teammate Brady Anderson, who signed on Monday for $1.855 million and whose 1992 statistics were very comparable.

"We're always open to constructive solutions," club president Larry Lucchino said, "but it looks like we're going to get some more arbitration experience this year."

Devereaux could not be reached for comment.

The Orioles have long been wary of the unpredictable arbitration process, and the club has a history of working hard to settle contract disputes without the help of an arbitrator.

The only arbitration showdown the team has faced in recent years came last February, when pitcher Bob Milacki scored a $1.18 million victory.

Devereaux is seeking to become the third highest-paid player on the Orioles roster, behind Cal Ripken ($4.5 million in '93) and Glenn Davis ($3.75 million). Even if he loses, he'll receive the fourth-highest single-season salary ever paid by the club.

Still, there was a handful of players who filed for more among the 100 who made salary demands yesterday. Texas first baseman Rafael Palmeiro asked for $4.85 million and the club countered at $4.25. Kansas City reliever Jeff Montgomery asked for $4.3 million and was offered $3.25. Relief pitcher Duane Ward asked for $4.2 million and Toronto came in at $3 million.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace filed for $4.1 million and the club offered $1 million less.

Cincinnati's Bip Roberts was the only outfielder to ask for more than Devereaux -- filing for $3.9 million -- but he has one more year of service time. Most of the players filing in that salary range were pitchers.

When a case reaches the hearing stage, the arbitrator may consider the comparative salaries of players with similar service time and statistics before choosing either the player's or the club's salary figure.

The arbitration process has provided much of the impetus for baseball's uncontrolled salary spiral, perhaps more so than free agency. Club owners can choose whether to sign free agents, but arbitration awards are largely based on salary precedents set by other clubs and other arbitration cases.

That's why the Orioles and several other teams released many of their arbitration-eligible players rather than tender them contracts in December.

The Orioles dropped first baseman Randy Milligan, designated hitter Sam Horn, pitchers Mark Williamson and Milacki and infielder Mark McLemore on Dec. 18, substantially lightening their arbitration caseload. (The club has since re-signed Williamson and McLemore.) The team also avoided potential hearings by releasing second baseman Bill Ripken and signing Anderson.

Anderson more than quintupled his 1991 salary, but he already is beginning to look like a bargain. He became the first American League player to have at least 20 home runs, 80 RBI and 50 stolen bases in the same season, but settled for nearly $1 million less than Devereaux will get if he loses. Both players are in the same service class, but Devereaux was working from a higher salary base ($1 million in '91) and has the better career statistics.

Still, the fact that Devereaux can come away with almost twice as much as Anderson after a comparable season does nothing to change the club's low opinion of the arbitration process.

"It's a dreadful aspect of a player compensation system that cries out for reform," Lucchino said. "It is a difficult and not entirely rational process. It is part of the landscape, but we'd sure like to see a better compensation system replace the one we've got."

Devereaux is coming off a breakthrough season in which he hit 24 home runs and ranked among the league leaders in RBI (107), hits (180), total bases (303), triples (11) and extra-base hits (64).

Frohwirth is coming off his second strong season in middle relief. He was 4-3 with a 2.46 ERA in 65 appearances and led the AL in relief innings pitched (106).

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