McGriff rolls with the rumors Padre piles up stats amid trade talk

July 06, 1993|By Dave Anderson | Dave Anderson,N.Y. Times News Service

He's the only slugger in baseball's modern era to lead the National League and the American League in home runs. With 209 homers at age 29, he's capable of hitting 400 in his career, a milestone that might provide a Hall of Fame plaque. His 191 homers over the last six seasons are the most of any big leaguer, more than Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco or Joe Carter.

You would think that owners of a major-league team would cherish Fred McGriff: a talent in his prime and a classy citizen.

Instead, McGriff is now available because the San Diego Padres owners would rather cut the payroll than cut the mustard.

The Padres owners' credo is that a small-market team can't afford many multimillion-dollar salaries, that they must compete with a rebuilt team of hungry kids. But by that reasoning, as soon as some of the kids do enough to rate baseball's big money, they, too, will be traded.

"I'm dangling out there, I know I'm going somewhere," McGriff was saying. "I've heard the rumors: the Braves, the Orioles, the Expos, the Yankees, the Mets. I just hope it's somebody in the race. I got spoiled when I was with the Blue Jays and we were always in the hunt."

Another rumor, apparently one McGriff hadn't heard, has him returning to the Blue Jays.

But wherever he goes, this sinewy 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman, the only big leaguer with more than 30 homers in each of the previous five seasons, will be just another Padres payroll deduction.

To the Padre owners, Fred McGriff has a fatal flaw: his $4.25 million salary.

As soon as McGriff is traded, probably for two or three young players whose total paychecks won't equal what The Chicken makes in appearances, the Padres' payroll will have been reduced to around $17 million, a more affordable number.

In the purge ordered by Tom Werner, the Padres' chairman and managing partner, only three Padres with salaries of at least $2 million are likely to survive. Tony Gwynn, the four-time batting champion, has a no-trade clause. Bruce Hurst, 35, the left-hander, is on the disabled list. Andy Benes, 25, the right-hander, is considered the ace of the staff.

Then again, third baseman Gary Sheffield, 24, earning $3.11 million as last season's National League batting champion, was recently traded to the Florida Marlins for three low-salaried players, two of whom are in the minors.

"If they're talking about rebuilding, I'm 29," McGriff said before last night's 12-7 win over the New York Mets. "I'm in the middle as far as age goes, but Gary is only 24. In spring training, Werner met with Tony Gwynn, Bruce Hurst, Andy Benes and me and told us he wanted to club to remain competitive. But if you lose by one or two runs, they seem to think that's competitive."

McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez were obtained from the Blue Jays after the 1990 season for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter.

"With me," McGriff said, "I like to set personal goals for homers and runs batted in -- at least 30 homers, at least 100 runs batted in. I'm on pace for 30 homers, but my runs batted in are down."

With one last night, McGriff has 44 RBI after having driven in 104 last year, and 106 the season before.

"I had a bad start; I usually have a quick start," he said. "Everything's been so unstable here, but I can't make excuses."

In last night's game, Tim Teufel drove in three runs and so did Jeff Gardner, his replacement, and San Diego extended Pete Schourek's winless streak to seven games.

San Diego scored four runs in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings, and gained the lead for good in the seventh after Schourek's sacrifice fly had tied the score.

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