Angelos vows to spend on despite tax Orioles owner says pending labor deal won't change approach

Could cost O's $3.5M in '97

'We will spend as much as we're able to spend'

August 13, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles will be hit hard by the luxury tax plan about to be approved by baseball owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association, but owner Peter Angelos said yesterday he does not expect it to alter the club's front-office strategy.

"I think we would maintain the same pace," Angelos said. "We're still going to do everything we can to keep the team competitive and make it a winner."

The final numbers still have not been hammered out, but the new collective bargaining agreement that is in the works probably will call for a 35 percent tax on excess payroll (and benefits) over a threshold of about $51 million next year. That could cost the Orioles approximately $3.5 million in addition to any revenue-sharing levy that might take effect in 1997 -- based on this year's combined payroll and benefits ($60.9 million).

That's a lot of money to put on top of one of the biggest payrolls in the game, but Angelos made it clear from the day he paid $173 million for the franchise three years ago that he would spend whatever was necessary -- within reason -- to bring the World Series back to Baltimore.

"Which leaves nothing at the bottom line, and might even leave a deficiency," Angelos said, "but that is a policy that we've adopted and that is a policy we will maintain. [The luxury tax] won't apply only to the Orioles, so if it dampens our efforts at all it will do the same to other clubs in the same situation, but we will spend as much as we're able to spend."

Angelos proved that when he vetoed a series of deals that would have dismantled the 1996 club to conserve resources and acquire young players to bolster the Orioles' thin minor-league system. He said at the time he felt he owed it to the fans to fight on, a decision the Orioles backed with their success on the recent road trip.

"I think we'll be in good shape," he said, "and I think the funds we will spend in the way of taxes and revenue sharing will be put to good use making less fortunate teams more competitive."

Even if the club still has the wherewithal to spend freely in the free-agent market, manager Davey Johnson foresees a time when the payroll will be pulled down by the weight of the club's developing talent, though that probably won't happen in time to save the club from a big luxury tax bill next year.

"Obviously, what we want to do is promote players from the minor-league system," Johnson said. "We don't have a lot of depth right now, but we do have some young arms. If some of them can make the jump, that could conceivably lower the payroll. It depends at the end of the season on who appears to be ready.

"The only way your payroll is going to go down is if the minor-league system feeds the big-league team. We've got a great major-league nucleus, so hopefully, our minor-league system will be able to feed that. I don't think the answer is always getting the most expensive player. The answer is getting the best player, and it's possible that player may be in your own system."

The Orioles have revealed the holes in their player development system over the past few weeks, shuffling players back and forth between Triple-A Rochester and the major-league club several times without appreciable success. Rookie pitcher Rocky Coppinger has made a big contribution in the starting rotation, but the club has been unable to draw on enough minor-league talent to keep the bullpen effective.

The club showed just how thin the talent is at the middle levels of the minor-league system when it claimed left-hander Mike Milchin off waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Milchin had an 8.31 ERA when he was waived by the Twins, yet the Orioles needed help badly enough to put him right into Johnson's eight-man bullpen.

Angelos said the financial commitment to the player development system also would not be affected by the new labor accord.

"We're doing everything possible to build up our minor-league system," he said, "and that will continue without being diminished in any way."

Waiting game

The 20 players who would become eligible for free agency following the World Series if players are credited with major-league service time for the period of the 1994-95 strike:

American League

Boston: 3B Tim Naehring

Chicago: P Alex Fernandez, C Chad Kreuter

Cleveland: 3B Scott Leius

Minnesota: 2B Chuck Knoblauch

Oakland: SS Mike Bordick

Toronto: P Tony Castillo, P Mike Timlin

National League

Atlanta: OF Mark Whiten

Chicago: OF Luis Gonzalez

Cincinnati: OF Thomas Howard

Florida: P Chris Hammond

Montreal: OF Moises Alou, P Mel Rojas

New York: OF Bernard Gilkey, C Brent Mayne

Philadelphia: 3B Mike Benjamin, 2B Mickey Morandini

San Diego: 3B Craig Shipley

San Francisco: P Jose Bautista

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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