Baltimore Orioles second baseman Bill Ripken accepted a slight pay cut yesterday and averted a salary arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
Ripken signed a one-year contract worth $685,000 -- $15,000 less than he made last year -- but the deal includes incentives that could take him above last year's $700,000 salary if he remains healthy and plays regularly.
He becomes the third arbitration-eligible Oriole to come to terms short of a hearing, joining outfielder Brady Anderson ($345,000) and designated hitter Sam Horn ($687,500). First baseman Randy Milligan, pitcher Bob Milacki and outfielder Mike Devereaux remain unsigned and scheduled for arbitration hearings within the next 10 days.
Ripken was the only one offered a pay cut. The club submitted a $630,000 arbitration figure, which represented a 10 percent reduction from 1991. Ripken and agent Ron Shapiro asked for $800,000. In each of the other two cases that were settled, the Orioles split the difference between the figures, but they apparently were insistent on Ripken's taking a step back from last year's salary.
He had jumped to $700,000 on the strength of a solid offensive season in 1990. He led the team with a .291 batting average and had another strong defensive season. But a series of injuries contributed to a disappointing offensive performance in 1991. His average slipped to .216 and he drove in 14 runs in 287 at-bats.
"I admire Bill's competitive spirit for battling through an injury-riddled season last year," said general manager Roland Hemond, "but now that he's healthy again, we're hopeful that he will regain the batting form that he displayed in 1990 when he led the club in hitting."
Ripken's disappointing season left him the subject of trade speculation after the season. There were rumors that he would be dealt to the New York Mets. There were rumors that the Orioles would acquire Montreal Expos second baseman Delino DeShields in a trade involving Milligan. It all seemed to fit, except that none of it even came close to transpiring.
The Orioles also made inquiries about free-agent infielder Kurt .. Stillwell several weeks ago, but apparently have made no real attempt to supplant Ripken at second. He did, after all, lead the club in hitting the last time he was healthy enough to play full time, and he is one of the best-fielding second basemen in the American League.
He may not bat .291 in 1992, but he won't have to if the rest of the club lives up to its offensive potential. (The Orioles ranked third in the league in home runs last year, even though they were without power-hitting Glenn Davis most of the season.) Ripken is one of the defensive cornerstones of a club that will need all the NTC good fielding it can get to support its rebuilt starting rotation.
The Orioles front office has other concerns at the moment. Arbitration hearings still are pending with the three players who filed for seven-figure salaries. Milacki, who was 10-9 last year, is seeking $1.18 million. The club has offered $700,000. The situation will be settled -- one way or another -- by the end of the week. The hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
Milligan is seeking $1.4 million in arbitration, and the club has offered $900,000. Devereaux is seeking $1.075 million, and the club has submitted an $875,000 salary figure. Both hearings are scheduled for Feb. 18.
The Orioles have a history of avoiding arbitration hearings. The last time they faced an arbitrator was in 1980, when they won a contract dispute with infielder Billy Smith. Since then, they have settled every dispute short of a hearing, but it appears unlikely that they can get through this contract hearing without spending at least one day in court.
Both Hemond and club president Larry Lucchino are on record as saying that they expect at least one of the remaining cases to be settled by an arbitrator.
O's and arbitration
Player.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Salary
Brady Anderson.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. $435,000
Sam Horn.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. $687,500
Bill Ripken.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .685,000
Player.. .. .. .. ..Offered.. .. .. .. ..Asked
Bob Milacki.. .. ..$700,000.. .. .. .$1.18mil.
R. Milligan.. .. ..$900,000.. .. .. . $1.4mil.
Devereaux.. .. .$875,000.. .. .. $1.075mil.