With three stars unsigned, Gillick fine-tunes his rule

ON BASEBALL

February 09, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick will bend his own rule as he attempts to re-sign Mike Mussina, Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson to contract extensions.

Last year, Gillick would not discuss contract extensions once spring training began. This seasons, he's pushing that deadline back to Opening Day, April 1.

"I just think that's the sensible and fair thing to do," said Gillick. "We're talking to two or three guys, working on some things. We've got to show them some respect, considering how much they've meant to this franchise."

The Orioles are well into negotiations with Mussina, though they are far from reaching an agreement. Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, is looking for nothing less than what the Florida Marlins gave right-hander Alex Fernandez, five years and $35 million, and the Orioles' three-year offer, with a fourth-year option, is worth about $20 million, guaranteed. Mussina is eligible for arbitration, with his hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.

According to league sources, Ripken is seeking a three-year deal worth between $7 million and $7.5 million a year. Ripken is slated to earn $6.2 million this year.

The Orioles are not actively talking with Anderson, who rejected a two-year, $8 million extension offer in the fall. The team likely will turn its attention to Anderson if and when it signs Mussina and/or Ripken.

Talks with Mussina and Ripken will resume this week.

Coming on strong

A half-dozen players who will have breakthrough seasons in 1997:

1. Everybody knows Gary Sheffield is a great hitter. But this year, everybody will know the Marlins right fielder is the best right-handed hitter in the game.

Said one NL manager: "With the protection he has around him now, Shef is going to have a monster year. It's scary the kind of numbers he's going to put up. He's got nine years in the majors, but everybody forgets this guy is just 28 years old. He's getting better and better and better."

NL MVP this season: Gary Sheffield.

2. The waiting is over for the Toronto Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado, who hit 25 homers and drove in 92 runs last season. In the middle of an improved lineup, he'll do even better.

3. Most scouts really like what they saw of Milwaukee pitcher Scott Karl last season (13-9, 4.86 ERA), and they expect he's only going to get better with time.

4. Houston Astros left-hander Mike Hampton has gradually improved over four seasons in the majors, and he's 24 years old. He'll win 15 games this year, at least.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Darren Dreifort will establish himself as a top-flight setup man this year, and he'll be the closer next year.

6. The Detroit Tigers would've given away first baseman Tony Clark for almost nothing a couple of years ago. Now, says former teammate Brad Ausmus, "He's going to be one of those guys who's going to hit 40 homers every year."

Strong man wanted

The latest installment in the interminable Roberto Alomar-John Hirschbeck saga presents yet another outstanding example of why baseball desperately needs a commissioner.

It was nice that the umpires, players and executives agreed to form a committee last week, and it also was entirely meaningless, so long as no one has the power to enforce whatever suggestions they make.

Now, in a sport with real leadership (see the NBA, David Stern and Dennis Rodman; and the NFL, Paul Tagliabue and Bill Parcells), an autonomous commissioner would have aggressively dealt with the Alomar-Hirschbeck problem. He would've flown to Toronto the morning after and examined Hirschbeck's report, as well the Orioles' contention that the umpire escalated the whole incident by overreacting and then swearing at Alomar.

An autonomous commissioner would have made his ruling fast and efficiently, and all sides would have been obligated to abide by his decision and move on. Alomar suspended for 20 games, Hirschbeck penalized in an appropriate fashion. End of story.

But baseball has this terrific power vacuum. Since nobody really has the absolute authority to mete out unchallenged punishment or to investigate, nobody stepped in to overrule AL president Gene Budig's clearly inadequate decision.

Nobody has thoroughly investigated the Orioles' claim that Hirschbeck instigated and escalated the initial confrontation. Nobody seems to have considered action against the umpire. Apparently, nobody has the power to address the problem and tell everybody to shut up.

So all sides entrench themselves and fire away, which they've learned to do aggressively. Because of the might of the players association, Budig handed down a pathetic five-game suspension to Alomar. That prompted outrage from the umpires union and Richie Phillips, counsel for the umpires.

(The great irony is that Alomar will suffer more than anyone else because of Budig's weak ruling.)

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