Braves face salary crunch, but Indians sitting pretty

ON BASEBALL

October 29, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz just smiles a tight smile when asked whether he'll be able to keep the main `D elements of this Braves team together, and says, again, that's a question he will address after the season.

But the financial reality of the matter is that the Braves will have a very hard time holding their core together. The Indians, on the other hand, are in a tremendous position to dominate the AL Central for years to come.

Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff, who made $4.25 million in 1995, is a free agent after this season, and it seems unlikely the Braves will keep him. He is 32, and, although he is the centerpiece of the Braves' offense, they have more pressing matters to address. They can fill one void easily by moving Ryan Klesko to first base, a position he played all through the minors.

The Braves will attempt to keep left-hander Steve Avery ($4 million salary for '95) and center fielder Marquis Grissom ($4.9 million), both eligible for arbitration. They must decide whether to hang onto second baseman Mark Lemke, who made $1.25 million.

"It's very challenging to maintain consistency," Schuerholz said, "with the economics aspects of baseball. For instance, how high would our payroll have gone if we kept our team together from 1991?"

Pretty high. Higher than the $45 million the Braves spent this year.

"The Indians are facing that now," Schuerholz said. "If they do what we've tried to do, if they keep the team together, the financial cost could be prohibitive."

But the Indians are in relatively good shape, having signed their young players to long-term contracts. Carlos Baerga is signed through 1998, Albert Belle through next year, Kenny Lofton through 1997 and Jose Mesa through 1998. The costs are fixed.

The one matter the Indians must address is their starting pitching, which has relied on aging veterans. Cleveland's farm system is rich; nonetheless, the club's major-league starters are older, with Orel Hershiser and Dennis Martinez. The Indians will have to rely on free agents for the next year or two, as they did when they signed Hershiser.

The Braves should remain a good team, because their primary pitchers -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz -- are locked into contracts. But the Indians . . . start talking dynasty.

Murray here in '96?

* Eddie Murray has told friends he thinks he'll be with the Orioles next year. Assuming he and Baltimore can agree on a salary, there's no reason to think it won't happen. But it's hard to imagine that, given all their other needs -- second base, the bullpen, one outfield spot -- the Orioles would give their designated hitter much more than $1.5 million next year. That would represent a large pay cut for Murray.

* Should the Braves choose to let McGriff go as a free agent, the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres are expected to be among those teams that will bid on the Crime Dog.

* The Dodgers have interest in hiring Phil Regan, the Orioles' ex-manager. "Phil's going to need a little time to sort some things out," said Los Angeles GM Fred Claire, "and then we'll see what he wants to do. We'll be talking." Look for Regan to be hired as a special assistant to Claire. He also may get a chance to be pitching coach for the Detroit Tigers as soon as Buck Showalter becomes manager there.

No deal for Giants' Williams

* San Francisco general manager Bob Quinn is adamant in his denial of trade rumors involving third baseman Matt Williams. "Matt Williams -- how can I put this? -- is not going to be traded," Quinn said. "Matt Williams is untouchable. We are not initiating phone calls nor entertaining any calls regarding Mr. Williams. That's as plain as I can make it."

Quinn did confirm that Mets GM Joe McIlvaine asked about Williams' availability in August.

One question: Why wouldn't Quinn entertain offers? Williams is a terrific player who will be paid $20 million over the next three years, by a team that wants to cut its annual payroll to about $20 million -- per year, not per player. A $7 million-per-year contract is going to be an incredible burden for the Giants in a year or two, and dealing Williams would provide San Francisco with some good, young talent in return, and the financial flexibility that becomes more critical each year.

* The holdup on the hiring of Ray Knight as Cincinnati's next manager involves money. Knight wants about $350,000 per year, and owner Marge Schott doesn't want to pay him that much. Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden reportedly wants out of his five-year contract because of Schott's insistence that he slash the payroll. Unfortunately, Bowden already is committed to $29.6 million for 11 players.

The unknown coach

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