Piazza trade conjures dreams Possibilities, both real and distant, abound

Inside the Orioles

May 17, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The memo landed on Peter G. Angelos' law office desk early Friday afternoon. The message was cryptic in both delivery and content.

The sender: anonymous.

The script: a mega-trade involving Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Mike Piazza to the Florida Marlins is imminent. The dead-in-the-water defending world champions, committed to slicing and dicing their payroll to $12 million over the objection of manager Jim Leyland, are then a cinch to recycle Piazza to a contender before August.

Translation: Mr. A, Get Involved!

Less than a year ago, the missive would have been wadded and thrown into File 13. Hadn't the Orioles considered trading for Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, his league's most gifted catcher and a solid fit for a lineup longer on reputation than production?

Sure, they had. But the idea was passed on when Angelos thought that the pending free agent's rumored asking price of $10 million-plus was ruinous to a carefully maintained internal salary structure. Within a team payroll of $68.7 million, no position player would average more than Cal Ripken's $6.3 million gross.

But as of late Friday night, Angelos still had the memo, and the Dodgers no longer had Piazza, allowing the Orioles to dream.

The possibility of trading for Piazza and making him the game's richest player no longer sounds so absurd. Indeed, for an organization that compares its ticket pricing to the NBA, paying a player more than $14 million a season might even make sense given the flexibility afforded by 12 pending free agents.

Angelos and his underlings will hold their tongues for fear of tampering charges. But according to sources close to Piazza's situation, the Marlins would entertain a no-holds-barred bidding war among the Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and New York Yankees for the All-Star catcher.

The winner would have to negotiate an extension, plus trade several young players. To the Orioles, that would mean parting with a package likely composed of some of the following: Sidney Ponson, Calvin Pickering, Ryan Minor, Jeffrey Hammonds and Armando Benitez.

While the Orioles do not intend to bump their payroll to $80 million for 1999, they also do not intend to re-sign all their veterans. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro ($4.85 million) is believed a goner. Even those in the same clubhouse think second baseman Roberto Alomar ($6.0 million) will be wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform next year. Meanwhile, the club has delayed negotiations with pitcher Jimmy Key ($3.5 million) and outfielder Eric Davis ($2.5 million). Joe Carter ($3.3 million) has led all to believe he will retire after this season.

The Dodgers prepared to deal Piazza after he rejected their six-year, $84 million offer. However, the catcher is said to be willing to accept extensive deferred money -- Angelos' trademark -- as part of any extension.

Also, Piazza is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, whose client list includes center fielder Brady Anderson, catcher Chris Hoiles and pitcher Scott Erickson.

The Orioles broke policy last week by signing Erickson to a five-year, $32 million extension, giving him two more years than any other pitcher, including Mike Mussina. Doing the same with Piazza is considered possible.

Club officials visualize Piazza perhaps moving between first base and catcher. Hoiles, who enters the final season of a five-year deal in 1999, could move to first base with Lenny Webster remaining as backup catcher. Webster's option for '99 automatically vests with 70 appearances this season.

A Philadelphia native, Piazza also presents a regional tie to the franchise's ever-expanding market.

None of this means Piazza to Camden Yards will happen. But it could as an aging clubhouse prepares itself for a radical makeover. Unlike a year ago, opposition from a Charles Street high-rise may become a tacit endorsement.

Orioles' ups and downs

Kevin Malone -- UP -- Given authority by Mr. A, the assistant GM came up big in negotiating the deal for Scott Erickson. Yeah, five years, $32 million is dangerous ground for a pitcher. Letting him escape would've been even scarier.

One-run games -- DOWN -- The Orioles entered the Devil Rays series winless in their past eight one-run games. A big reason why this club appears headed for a wild-card race.

Arthur Rhodes -- DOWN -- The staff's most consistent reliever sprung a leak in consecutive appearances. Both times the long ball cost him.

Mike Bordick -- UP -- Six hits, two homers and 13 total bases in two games against Cleveland. Of his past 25 hits, 11 have gone for extras. Eight-game hitting streak ended Friday. Could he be Ray Miller's next No. 2 hitter?

Joggin' Jeffrey Hammonds -- EVEN -- In his past eight games Hammonds has jacked his average 48 points, but also resurrected organizational misgivings about his ability to play at less than 100 percent. Last Saturday's jog to second base during a tie game in St. Petersburg infuriated Miller.

Jesse Orosco -- DOWN -- The ancient left-hander must do more against left-handed hitting.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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