Angelos can step in, sign trio, take bow

March 28, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It is an old New York tabloid trick whenever the Yankees enter a crisis. Columnist warns of disaster. Columnist pleads for Boss to intervene. Boss comes to rescue.

Peter Angelos, now it's your turn.

Three of your most important players are entering the final years of their contracts. General manager Pat Gillick has set an Opening Day deadline for reaching agreement on extensions, and that's four days away.

Peter, you know what George Steinbrenner would do.

He'd wrest control of the negotiations from his baseball people, complete the deals in a series of marathon negotiating sessions and announce the signings to a roaring sellout crowd on Opening Day.

Sound good, Peter?

Sure, it does.

You were a hero when you refused to use replacement players during the strike. You were a hero when you refused to trade Bobby Bonilla and David Wells last season and the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 1983.

Oh, you might not meddle as much as the Boss -- who does? -- but you love the spotlight, love the attention, love taking all the credit, and looking like the smartest guy in the room.

Well, here's your chance.

Sign Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson this weekend, and you can grab the microphone Opening Day and speak for even longer than you did the night Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record.

Take a half-hour, take an hour, and then settle back to watch the Orioles whip Kansas City. Afterward, you can hold a triumphant news conference, blast the columnists who doubted you and challenge them to ever rip you again.

Who would dare?

Well, uh, I

Next paragraph, please.

Seriously, Peter, it's time to get down to business. You're not that far apart in any of these negotiations. And if ego is the issue -- "if," we said "if" -- there's something critical you need to know.

You've already won.

Ripken apparently is prepared to accept two years and an option, just like you wanted. And Mussina and Anderson definitely are prepared to accept extensions below market value, just like you wanted.

So, what are you arguing about?

Dollars.

And even if you cave now, you'd still be way ahead.

Mussina wants $7 million a year -- he probably would command at least $8 million on the open market. Anderson would take less than that, and if he has another big season, his value, too, would skyrocket.

Ripken? He's a special case. But if he's willing to make his third year an option, then just increase his annual salary and buyout figure, one good-faith gesture for another.

Other executives would weep in gratitude if they had potential free agents this cooperative. Take Cleveland -- it had to trade Kenny Lofton after he demanded $45 million. Look at Atlanta, bracing for agent Scott Boras and Greg Maddux.

Enough hardball already.

By today's obscene standards, these three are softies.

Mussina maintains that his deal "can be done in 10 minutes" -- of course it can, Peter; you've apparently agreed on three years, and are approximately $500,000 apart per season.

Anderson's only demand is a no-trade clause, and the labor agreement mandates that he'll get one anyway during the 1998 season, when he becomes a player with 10 years of major-league service, five with the same club.

And Ripken wants to stay -- needs to stay -- more than either of them.

That Opening Day deadline? It's not yours, Peter -- it's general manager Pat Gillick's, and Anderson's agent thinks it's flexible. Deadlines, shmeadlines. The players won't become free agents for six months! Why box yourself in?

You still should complete the Ripken deal immediately -- he negotiated during his free-agent year in 1992, had a miserable season and vowed never again to mix business and baseball.

Mussina, meanwhile, is tired of the process, and if his agreement can be reached as quickly as he says, then invite his agent to Baltimore this weekend, share a good meal in Little Italy and get it done.

Anderson?

Once again, Peter, you're in luck. The one player who is willing to negotiate into the season is the one you most want to sign after April 1, to avoid paying a higher luxury tax.

The way it works, any extension signed before that date would change the player's average annual value for 1997 -- and that number is the one used when computing the tax.

It matters little with Ripken and Mussina -- their new salaries aren't expected to be much higher than their current ones ($6.2 million for Ripken, $6.825 million for Mussina).

Anderson, however, figures to receive a significant raise from $4 million. So, it's in the club's interest to delay the signing of his contract past Opening Day.

"You've always got to analyze how you can save money. That's one of the pieces in the puzzle," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said yesterday.

"We're trying to be fiscally responsible. But I wish that was a bigger part of this equation. We're not close enough yet."

Get closer, Peter.

Reopen talks with Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem. Arrange a face-to-face meeting with Ripken and agent Ron Shapiro. Keep working toward an agreement with Anderson.

The Boss wouldn't stand for such a threat to his public image, and to his club's long-term success. The Boss would kick his baseball people out of the room, roll up his sleeves and take over.

The man just won a World Series, didn't he?

It's your turn, Peter.

Seize the day.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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