Piazza tables talks until season's end


April 12, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza already has set a major-league record this year -- most money ever turned down by a major-league baseball player. The Dodgers offered him a six-year contract worth $14 million per year ($84 million) and Piazza responded by breaking off negotiations.

Piazza announced that decision after Dodgers fans booed him on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday and kept the heat on him the following night.

"I have let the talks become a distraction, and for that I apologize to my teammates and our fans," Piazza said in a prepared statement. "For the rest of the season, I will focus completely on bringing a championship to Los Angeles and will not discuss my contract status with anyone until the season ends."

That's probably a smart move, considering that agent Dan Lozano has built a huge arbitrary wall between the two sides by insisting that Piazza become the first $100 million player. He may be worth that in today's market, but it still appears that his demands are as much ego-driven as market-driven. It just isn't clear whose ego -- Piazza's or Lozano's -- is in the driver's seat.

The Dodgers have made a reasonable offer, but Piazza apparently is intent on breaking the nine-figure barrier. Everyone assumes that he'll succeed if he becomes a free agent, but that depends on how many clubs are willing to bid at that level.

Dodgers general manager Fred Claire also released a diplomatic statement that echoed Piazza's announcement.

"Both sides have agreed this is the best course of action to take at this time," Claire said. "It probably is the only thing we have agreed on."

The Dodgers have a two-week window after the World Series to negotiate exclusively with Piazza, but the probability of him becoming a free agent and leaving the club increased dramatically over the past week.

Just to put the whole thing in perspective, consider that the Dodgers' offer is $9 million richer than Pedro Martinez's record six-year contract and that the gap between the club's offer and Piazza's demand is roughly equivalent to the size of the three-year contract extension Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina signed last spring.

A place for McDonald

Injured right-hander Ben McDonald -- who was released recently by the Milwaukee Brewers -- is drawing some interest from the Texas Rangers, where general manager Doug Melvin and manager Johnny Oates remember him fondly from their time together in Baltimore.

"I'd have to look at the medical reports, but based on our past association, I think we might have some interest," Melvin said recently.

Orioles officials, by the way, already have said that they have little interest in McDonald, who will be out all season recovering from surgery.

Tough customer

The Minnesota Twins are still fuming about the incident eight days ago, when Kansas City Royals rookie shortstop Felix Martinez allegedly kicked veteran Otis Nixon in the face and broke his jaw.

Twins GM Terry Ryan has forwarded videotape of the incident to American League president Gene Budig in the hope that the league office will look deeper into the matter.

Martinez apparently has a history of volatile behavior. His poor behavior in the Double-A Texas League led to a series of ejections and fines in 1995, including a five-day suspension for accosting an umpire.

Texas League president Tom Kayser told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Martinez was pulled away by a teammate as he cocked his arm to punch the umpire after an argument escalated into a bumping incident.

"Felix is as volatile a player as I've had," Kayser said. "Felix is very, very lucky he had a teammate as close as he did when he bumped the umpire. If the guy wasn't standing next to him, it certainly appeared as if he was about to strike the umpire.

"If that had occurred, he would have been suspended for a long time. He certainly would have been suspended all of that year and part of the next. He's a handful."

It will be interesting to see if Budig takes action, and -- if so -- whether the Major League Baseball Players Association jumps blindly to Martinez's defense. He sounds like a candidate for an anger-management seminar.

Honesty is best policy

Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland stopped trying to sugarcoat it after his club lost its eighth straight game on Wednesday in Philadelphia.

"We stink right now," Leyland said. "We're getting just what we deserve. When you play the way we're playing right now, you get beat. We're not doing any phase of the game well right now."

Good deal

Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove has no regrets about the deal that sent top hitting prospect Sean Casey to the Cincinnati Reds for pitcher Dave Burba, perhaps because Burba has been one of the most consistent pitchers on the staff since his abrupt arrival just before Opening Day.

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