Yankees' big-bucks signing gives draft a chilling effect to poor teams

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The New York Yankees gave in to the demands of No. 1 draft choice Brien Taylor and, in the process, heaped a little more financial frustration on baseball's small-market teams.

Taylor's $1.55 million contract left the Milwaukee Brewers wondering how they will be able to compete for young talent, especially after their No. I pick, Kenny Henderson (No. 5 overall), turned down a $500,000 offer and enrolled at the University of Miami.

It was the second time in four years that the Brewers have failed to sign their top pick. They let pitcher Alex Fernandez get away over a $50,000 difference of opinion in 1988 and have lived to regret it. This time, they never were close.

Henderson and agent Scott Boras apparently used the $1.2 million contract signed by 1990 No. 1 pick Todd Van Poppel as their standard of comparison, but the Taylor deal may have broken the million-dollar barrier for good.

The $500,000 contract offered to Henderson would have ranked among the richest ever given to a baseball draft choice, but it paled next to Taylor's record take. The Brewers say they can't go wallet-to-wallet with the large-market teams, whether it be for top-name free agents or high school prospects They, and a lot of other clubs, believe the erratic Yankees front office has upset the game's salary structure again.

Brewers owner Bud Selig, who viewed the draft as a last refuge of small-market equality, says the salary spiral will further widen the quality gap between baseball's richest and more modest teams.

"As [Houston Astros general manager] Bill Wood said, the draft has always been the great hope of the small-market teams," Selig told reporters recently. "We'll just have to be more clever and work harder."

Meanwhile, back in New York, the Taylor contract has come under fire from none other than the banished Boss himself. Exiled owner George Steinbrenner openly second-guessed GM Gene Michael for caving in to the young pitcher's demands.

"Never in my wildest dreams would I have paid that kid a million and a half," Steinbrenner said in an interview published Thursday by Newsday. This, only a few days after he told the same newspaper that Michael "ought to be shot" if he failed to sign Taylor.

Seemed like old times. Steinbrenner, who may have undermined the Taylor negotiations with his earlier comments, laid the blame squarely on Michael, who defended himself during an informal news conference on Thursday.

"If he was here, he would have signed him," Michael said. "I guarantee you, we did the right thing."

Give some credit to Boras and Taylor's wily mom, who played the troubled Yankees front office against itself to get what they wanted.

Since the Baltimore Orioles are close to conceding that rookie Arthur Rhodes will need a year of seasoning at the Class AAA level, it seems likely that the club will survey the free-agent market again this winter in search of a pitcher to anchor the starting rotation.

But who? The club probably isn't willing to go the distance and sign a pitcher the caliber of a Frank Viola, and it would make little sense to spend millions to get someone who might not have a significant impact on the fortunes of the club.

The answer may lie in California, where Angels right-hander Kirk McCaskill is having a disappointing option year.

McCaskill is a quality starter who might have to settle for less, which is just what the Orioles figure to offer. He is an East Coast guy (University of Vermont) who has a history of contractual differences with the Angels front office. He just might be the pitching bargain (in relative terms, of course) Roland Hemond will be looking for.

Here's my Top 10 list of reasons Baltimore should grant the Orioles an ex post facto rent rollback:

10: City would just squander the money on education or law enforcement.

9: If rent had been lower last year, we'd have Franklin Stubbs now.

8: Club needs money to sign more minor-league free agents.

7: If the Orioles don't get a rent reduction, they are going to move out of Memorial Stadium at the end of the year and find a new place to play.

6: City budget crisis just more proof that financially sound Orioles organization better suited to handle public funds.

5: Funds needed for Fan Appreciation Day. First 30,000 fans will receive a $1,000 savings bond. (It will be up to them to decide how they want to split it up.)

4: What are a few potholes among friends?

3: Esskay-Crown Oil-Toyota-Coca-Cola-98 Rock batting glove promotion cost $3 million more than anticipated.

2: Where would you rather go? The ballgame or the library?

1: Money needed to lobby for rent reduction at new stadium.

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell still is burning over the way the Boston media handled his pre-game altercation with teammate Mo Vaughn.

The fight. which took place at Anaheim Stadium on Aug. 23, was captured on videotape by a fan and ended up on television in Boston. It was not very flattering to Greenwell, who went into the scuffle with a bat in his hand and came out of it with a cut on his face.

The difference of opinion has since been smoothed over, but Greenwell said he will not talk to the media for the rest of the year. In journalistic circles, this is what is known as blaming the messenger, though the TV types probably are just happy Greenwell didn't come after them with a bat.

New Angels manager Buck Rodgers was booed at Anaheim Stadium in only his third game with the club, even though the Angels were on the verge of taking two of three games from the surprising Detroit Tigers.

The fans objected to Rodgers' decision to pull left-hander Jim Abbott out of Wednesday's 1-0 victory with one out and no one on in the eighth inning. Mark Eichhorn and Bryan Harvey came on to protect Abbott's 14th victory, but that was after Rodgers found out how quickly public opinion can change in Southern California.

"The romance lasted about 15 minutes," he said. "If I have to manage for you guys [the press] or the fans, I might as well get out of the game. I'm here to make declslons based on my coaches' knowledge and my knowledge. I didn't expect everybody to stand up and cheer."

Incidentally, Rodgers became the 10th Angels manager since the Los Angeles Dodgers appointed Tommy Lasorda manager. Lasorda weathered two disappointing seasons leading up to his second world championship in 1988. In Anaheim, he almost certainly would have been fired before he got the chance to redeem himself.

The Angels have slipped to the bottom of the American League West standings, but no one can point to Abbott as one of the reasons for their demise.

The 23-year-old left-bander has come into his own this year, bouncing back from an 0-4 start to become one of the most effective pitchers in baseball over the past four months.

Abbott is 14-4 with a 2.53 ERA in his past 23 starts, and that doesn't tell the whole story. The normally dependable Angels bullpen blew save opportunities in four of the five games that Abbott got no decision. With a little luck, he could have been the major league's first 18-game winner this year.

So, don't confuse the Angels' disappointing past with a disappointing future. The nucleus of the starting rotation - Abbott, Chuck Finley and Mark Langston - could be the best 1-2-3 punch in the AL.

Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan met with his players Monday and assured them that he is doing everything in his power to keep the team in Seattle, but he may have to sell the club if he cannot refinance a $35.5 million loan by early next year.

The Mariners have long been ripe for rumors of a move, but they appear to be locked into their King-dome lease through the 1995 season even if Smulyan is forced to sell.

Quote of the week: ESPN broadcaster Dave Campbell can turn a phrase with the best of them, and proved it after Atlanta Braves second baseman Mark Lemke made a diving play last week.

Exclaimed Campbell: "Lemke got to the ball quicker than a homely debutante."

Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin will have to wear a protective mask over his face when he comes back from a fractured cheekbone, and he says he may paint part of the mask so he will resemble the Phantom of the Opera.

"With this mask, I will become famous," Griffin said. The Dodgers will settle for productive. Rookie Jose Offerman committed seven errors and batted .186 in the first 22 games after Griffin went on the DL.

The day after Bret Saberhagen pitched 1991's seventh no-hitter, he sent the lineup card over to the Chicago White Sox clubhouse with a request that every starter sign it. Everyone did, except outfielder Lance Johnson, who struck out three times in the game.

Dodgers pitcher Tim Belcher raised some eyebrows in the club's front office recently when he said that the Dodgers might have to fall out of first place before they wake up and regain control of the National League West race.

General manager Fred Claire even called him in to explain himself, though it seemed obvious that he was chiding his teammates for their uninspired performance and not rooting for the team to lose.

"I didn't want it to sound like I wanted to lose," he said. "All I meant was that our team needed to wake up.

Around the league in 80 seconds

* Apparently, hitting an inside-the-park grand slam is no ticket to immortality in Chicago. Chico Walker became the sixth Cub to hit one, joining a list that consisted of John Cusick (1951), Eddie Waitkus (1947), Norman McMillan (1929), Jigger Statz (1924) and Bernard Friberg (1923).

* Forget about Mike Flanagan winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. If Yankees reliever Steve Howe doesn't win it, then Rangers P Jose Guzman probably will. Guzman is 9-5 with a 3.10 ERA after spending 2 years recovering from a career-threatening shoulder injury.

* Angels P Jim Abbott has won 8 straight day games, and he thinks he knows why. "You don't have time to get nervous," he said.

* Brewers OF Dante Bichette had 2 HRs and 5 RBI in a July 7 game against the Indians. In his 113 at-bats since then through Friday, he said.

* Buck Rodgers became the third original member of the Angels to manage the team. Del Rice and Jim Fregosi were the others.

* Royals 1B George Brett entered yesterday's game batting .261 - 21 points below the lowest season-ending average of his career.

* Here's a strange stat: The Indians have made 11 errors in the past 2 games started by Eric King, who pitched a total of 11 1/3 innings and gave up 8 runs - all earned.

Peter Schmuck

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