Palmeiro takes swing at value O's productive slugger likely to seek $50M over five years to stay

'I'm not doing a Brady'

Erickson might seek four-year, $30M deal

January 30, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As the Orioles ponder how to address a crush of 13 players eligible for free agency after the 1998 season, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro insists, "I'm not doing a Brady Anderson," and will demand market value to remain with the franchise.

Likening his numbers on offense to All-Star players Matt Williams and former American League Most Valuable Player Mo Vaughn, Palmeiro likely will require a five-year, $50 million contract, a package that would obliterate the Orioles' benchmark average of $7.25 million awarded to third baseman Cal Ripken last April.

"I look at myself a little differently. I've already experienced other places. I've played in Chicago and Texas. I'm open to playing elsewhere," says Palmeiro, who says he hasn't discussed his contract status since meeting briefly with majority owner Peter Angelos last spring. "Last year I went to them and expressed the feeling that I wanted to be an Oriole for the rest of my career. I think I opened the door. Since then we've waited and waited and nothing has been done.

"If we wait some more and I play it out, it's only fair that I get the best deal possible."

Orioles officials maintain their reluctance to go beyond the contracts signed by Ripken and Mussina last season.

The Orioles, who will carry a $70 million payroll into this season, have yet to pass beyond preliminary talks with any of their 13 pending free agents. Palmeiro, second baseman Roberto Alomar, left fielder B. J. Surhoff, and starting pitchers Scott Erickson and Jimmy Key represent the most pressing cases. Yet to contact Palmeiro or his agent, Jim Bronner, they have begun talks with representatives for Surhoff and Erickson.

Citing the club's age and contract status, Palmeiro believes this season is "a make-it-or-break-it year" for the league's most veteran team.

"If we don't win, they may not sign half their players," he says. "You have to look at their side. It's a business. I hope the fans understand it's also a business for me."

Palmeiro's tack differs from that of center fielder Brady Anderson and staff ace Mike Mussina, both of whom negotiated face-to-face with Angelos and accepted below-market offers to remain in Baltimore.

As a somewhat reluctant free agent, Anderson, 34, publicly gave the Orioles a "home-field advantage" in negotiations. The move inhibited other interested teams from making offers, and Anderson eventually signed a five-year, $31 million contract in December. Mussina bypassed free agency last May by accepting a three-year, $20.45 million offer. Industry analysts believe the pitcher with a career 105-49 record could have commanded at least $9 million per season had he tested the market after a sixth consecutive season of 14 or more wins capped by a brilliant postseason performance.

"I know Brady has been with the Orioles' organization a long time and he wanted to stay really bad. I can't blame him for what he did. But if I have to play out the whole season, I'm going to look at things a little differently. Other teams will be involved," Palmeiro said, adding, "I'd rather lock myself in and not worry about ending up somewhere else. But if I'm forced to play the last year without an extension, I owe it to myself to see what's out there."

Palmeiro agreed to a five-year, $30.5 million contract in December 1992. This season he will earn $7.3 million -- including $1.8 million deferred -- making him the team's highest-paid position player.

Palmeiro's production since arriving at Camden Yards has been staggering: 139 home runs, 432 RBIs and 376 runs scored. Since the strike-shortened 1994 season he has averaged 39 home runs, 119 RBIs and 154 games. "I look at Matt Williams and the way his career has turned out. I look at Mo Vaughn, Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey. I'm not saying I've reached that level but I'm not too far behind," says Palmeiro, 33.

Williams recently signed a five-year, $45 million extension after being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Vaughn, briefly considered a trade option by the Orioles, is negotiating for an extension with the Boston Red Sox that would bring him more than $10 million per season.

Palmeiro insists he hasn't established a deadline for a deal to be struck, but he expects the market to escalate after the season begins, making a deal more remote.

"If I still haven't signed a contract by the beginning of the season, it's not going to get done. Brady didn't sign in the spring when the team could have had him for less than half of what it eventually took. The longer they wait, the more it takes," he says.

General manager Pat Gillick previously has turned over negotiations to Angelos after the season begins. Palmeiro insists the owner negotiate through his agent.

"I don't want it to be a personal thing. I have a lot of respect for Peter and what he's done. He's smart. I'd like to be smart about it also," Palmeiro says.

Now built around their pitching, the Orioles also may have to flex their salary structure to accommodate the durable Erickson, their No. 2 starter who is coming off a 16-7 year in which he pitched more than 220 innings for a second consecutive season. Recent signings of Pedro Astacio and Wilson Alvarez and the voided contract of Andy Benes have escalated Erickson's market. He is believed to be seeking a four-year deal worth between $28 million to $30 million.

To date, the Orioles under Gillick have been unwilling to guarantee more than three years to any pitcher.

"We're not going to confine ourselves to Mussina's contract," said Erickson's agent, Rick Thurman. "A lot has happened within the industry since that deal was struck."

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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