Owners' new deal may be salary restraint

ON BASEBALL

July 21, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

Major League Baseball hopes to institute a stiff luxury tax on the game's highest payrolls as part of ownership's current labor strategy, but the game's salary bubble might be getting ready to burst on its own.

The success of the New York Yankees notwithstanding, there is growing skepticism even among the other large-market clubs about the huge contracts that have been given to some of the game's top players over the past five years.

Too many of those deals have turned into disasters.

The Colorado Rockies committed a record $121 million to free-agent pitcher Mike Hampton less than two years ago and now can't find anyone willing to take his 5-11 record and his huge contract off their hands.

The Texas Rangers broke the bank to sign superstar Alex Rodriguez for $252 million over 10 years, but have spent his first two seasons in Texas at the bottom of the American League West in spite of his terrific performance.

The Anaheim Angels signed Mo Vaughn to a six-year deal worth nearly $14 million per year, only to send him to the New York Mets after he spent most of his three seasons in Anaheim on the disabled list.

The Orioles spent $65 million to sign slugger Albert Belle to a five-year deal, but were fortunate to recoup much of that money in insurance after he had to retire with a hip injury.

The Cincinnati Reds have yet to get the production they expected from often-injured superstar Ken Griffey, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are again without high-priced pitcher Kevin Brown because of an injury.

Sooner or later -- probably sooner -- the Yankees and Mets will be the only teams motivated to consider spending $100 million to sign a free-agent star, and the lack of other serious bidders is going to make it hard for agents to get up to that level.

There already are indications that a sense of salary sanity is taking hold. The Orioles and Chicago Cubs, both considered big-revenue franchises in the past, have telegraphed their reluctance to deal for players who might command more than $10 million per season.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who stunned the industry with the outrageous contract for Rodriguez, has been properly chastened after another big-money season gone awry.

Even if Bud Selig's proclamations of impending financial doom are exaggerated, there might be enough teams concerned about the bottom line to start driving salaries in the other direction -- with or without a luxury tax on team payrolls exceeding $98 million.

It'll look like collusion, but it just might be common sense.

A-Rod's apology

Rodriguez has continued to put up the fantastic numbers that prompted the Rangers to give him the biggest contract in the history of professional team sports, but he recognizes that the fans of the Dallas/Fort Worth area are not getting their money's worth this season.

"This is embarrassing," he said Monday. "We should all be embarrassed. Basically, we are a failure. I feel that way. It's embarrassing to me to not help the team more and contribute more. Everybody in here can do better. We have to have a sense of urgency. We have to check ourselves in the mirror and push ourselves more. It's embarrassing."

His frustration bubbled up after the Rangers dropped a doubleheader to the small-market Kansas City Royals.

"When I speak, I speak for this whole team, I hope," Rodriguez added on Wednesday, as the Rangers' tailspin continued. "We are very frustrated. We don't accept losing. You just feel that there's a point where you have to turn it around. There's no quit in this clubhouse, but at the same time, we just haven't gotten it done."

Indians intrigue

Indians general manager Mark Shapiro has indicated that interim manager Joel Skinner is a candidate to manage the club long term, but the team will evaluate Skinner's performance in the second half and consider other candidates.

Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Eddie Murray is on that list, along with former Philadelphia Phillies manager Terry Francona, Angels pitching coach Bud Black, former Rockies and Detroit Tigers manager Buddy Bell and minor-league manager Eric Wedge.

Bonus Skinner note: Joel and father Bob Skinner are only the second father and son to both manage in the major leagues. George Sisler (St. Louis Browns, 1924-26) and Dick Sisler (Cincinnati Reds, 1964) are the other.

Fish fit to be fried

There were a lot of unhappy players in the Florida Marlins' clubhouse after the team traded away Cliff Floyd, Ryan Dempster and any chance to compete for a playoff berth over the next couple of years.

The sense of frustration was summed up by first baseman Derrek Lee, who said he would rather join the parade out of South Florida than stay for another rebuilding program.

"I want out," he said. "We were blatantly lied to. They said they wanted to win here, but the moves they make don't back up what they are saying. They lied to us. They lied to everybody.

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