O's in for Piazza effect: Palmeiro says signing strengthens case with '98 team, 4 or 5 others Asking price unknown

Club hasn't moved from its initial offer

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

Rafael Palmeiro isn't certain if he's coming or going but says he is certain the game's rising salary structure will have an impact on negotiations with the Orioles as well as "four or five" other clubs who have expressed their interest in the All-Star first baseman.

Palmeiro said the recent signing of catcher Mike Piazza by the New York Mets to a seven-year, $91 million contract only strengthens his push for a contract in the neighborhood of $10 million a season.

Palmeiro declined to specify his asking price, saying, "It changes every day. I can't tell you a number I'm searching for. We'll see when this thing starts next week. But the Piazza deal is going to have an impact on me. It will have an impact on a lot of people."

It hasn't affected the Orioles, who haven't budged from an initial three-year, $21 million offer that Palmeiro deemed dead on arrival.

"From a production standpoint, my numbers are better [than Piazza's]," says Palmeiro. "His batting average is better, no question. But when you look at our production, [$10 million] doesn't look ridiculous, does it?"

Majority owner Peter Angelos reportedly has softened his opposition to creating a $10 million player. Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn, New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams and San Diego Padres pitcher Kevin Brown will likely join that club this off-season. Palmeiro earned $7.35 million last season as the final installment of a five-year, $30 million deal.

General manager Frank Wren said last night that no decision has been made regarding Palmeiro or several other of the club's high-profile free agents. Wren classified the possibilities as "moving parts" -- either re-signing free agents, importing replacements or making room for precocious prospects such as infielder Ryan Minor, first baseman Calvin Pickering or second baseman Jerry Hairston. (Third base/infield coach Sam Perlozzo was dispatched to Arizona to tutor Hairston during the Arizona Fall League.)

Says Wren, now a week into his new job: "There are lots of moving parts involved. There are a lot of free agents. There are a lot of situations where we have minor- league players getting closer to the big leagues. We could be juggling all of them at the same time figuring out which players are best for the club. I don't even think it's logical to pencil in a lineup at this point. What is logical is to pencil in a number of options and pursue your highest priority. When that doesn't work, you regroup."

In charge of negotiations, Angelos spoke recently with Palmeiro's agent, Jim Bronner, but did not modify his previous offer.

Palmeiro, meanwhile, wonders whether media characterizations of him as a "numbers player" transfixed by personal statistics will damage his value -- at least in Baltimore, where he says he prefers to remain.

"For anyone to say I'm a numbers guy doesn't know that first-hand," Palmeiro says. "When things were going bad between him and the team, I heard Mo say he would go out and put up numbers, then they would have to pay for the numbers. But somehow you don't hear anyone say that stuff about Mo Vaughn. I've always said let's go out and win."

Overlooked are his contributions to clubhouse tranquility, says Palmeiro. Acknowledging that chemistry problems sullied the clubhouse, especially among Latin players who felt they were assigned second-class status by the club behind popular stars such as Cal Ripken and Brady Anderson, Palmeiro cited his attempts to smooth over the frustrations of Alomar and especially closer Armando Benitez. He said he also tried to ease rookie pitcher Sidney Ponson's transition to the major leagues.

"I talked to Robby a lot. I know Robby had a lot of problems. I spent a lot of time trying to let him focus on the game. I think he got better. With Armando, it's harder because he's younger. Sidney will listen and soak it in," he said.

Palmeiro agrees with popular wisdom that suggests Alomar will flee via free agency, Benitez will be traded and that he, too, is anything but a lock to return to a largely self-segregated clubhouse.

"I think if you have the right combination of players, you don't have that problem," Palmeiro says. "Every team has Latin players. Some teams have Japanese players. If you have the right mix, guys can communicate."

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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