Spending doesn't seem wise

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Never fails. Just when you think some fiscal sanity has been restored, just when you think the teams might be learning how to bid for players and respect market value, somebody goes overboard and hands out an absurd contract.

* Exhibit A: The Yankees trade for first baseman Tino Martinez and sign him to a five-year, $20.25 million deal.

The fact is Tino Martinez is a career .265 hitter. Before this year, he never had driven home more than 66 runs in a year. Heck, by driving in 111 runs in the middle of a stacked Seattle lineup last summer, Martinez improved his career RBI total by about 50 percent. A good hitter, sure. Not a great hitter, though, and certainly not among first basemen.

And yet the Yankees give the guy a five-year deal, which makes no sense in so many different ways. The $20.25 million investment could negatively affect their pursuit of pitcher David Cone and/or second baseman Roberto Alomar, or their ability to retool the pitching staff. Martinez's weakness is pitches down and inside, not the type of hitter that exploits the short fence at Yankee Stadium. Why, too, did the Yankees trade prospects for Martinez, when they could have aggressively chased down a free agent such as Mark Grace or Julio Franco -- proven hitters -- and not surrendered the young players in a deal?

None of that mattered. The Yankees are locked up with Martinez into next century, and one has to wonder whether it's just a coincidence that the son-in-law of New York owner George Steinbrenner was a former high school gym teacher of Martinez in Florida.

* Exhibit B: The Boston Red Sox sign Jose Canseco to a two-year, $9 million deal.

This is what we know about Canseco's immediate future: He will say something outrageous. He'll probably get a ticket for speeding. He'll probably get hurt. Canseco has played a grand total of 392 games the past four seasons, averaging 23 homers. He was hurt last year, missing 42 games, or approximately 30 percent of Boston's games.

Nonetheless, Boston general manager Dan Duquette worked until Thursday's midnight deadline to get Canseco to agree to terms on an incentive-laden deal that should exceed $5 million a year.

Just because Canseco sells a few extra tickets. You can bet the Red Sox will be crying about a lack of flexibility in their payroll in a couple of years. Imagine what Mo Vaughn, the MVP who is unhappy with his contract, will think about his less productive teammate getting the multimillion deal.

Never fails. Never. As usual, the teams will have no one but themselves to blame.

He oughta be in pictures

John Kruk called a friend out of the blue this week, from Anaheim, Calif. What are you doing there, John, his friend asked. "I'm in a movie," Kruk said, in his dry, raw voice. "With Robert De Niro."

C'mon, be serious, his friend replied.

"No, I'm serious, man," Kruk said.

He is serious. Kruk is playing the part of a baseball player being followed by a stalker, De Niro, in "The Fan." As Kruk described his role, he is standing in the batter's box when the plate umpire slashes and kills him. De Niro, the stalker, used fake umpire gear to get close to his prey.

"It's boring," Kruk said. "I sleep at the hotel all day, and then we shoot [scenes] at night."

Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken is a consultant for the flick.

High fastball, high hopes

Cubs manager Jim Riggleman loved the competitiveness and work ethic of closer Randy Myers, but others in the organization fretted over his diminished fastball. Myers throws high fastballs. High fastballs translate into fly balls, and fly balls are bad in a bandbox like Camden Yards. Orioles manager Davey Johnson said Friday that he is aware of Myers' tendency toward high pitches, but is satisfied that Myers' control is good enough to succeed.

* The Pirates are interested in slugger Kevin Mitchell.

* Former Orioles No. 1 pick Jay Powell likely will be the setup man in the Florida bullpen next week. Bret Barberie, the Orioles' half of the deal made by Roland Hemond last winter, probably will be nontendered. Ouch.

* Chicago GM Ron Schueler waited until Monday night to ask Paul Molitor whether he was interested in signing with the White Sox. Nice sentiment, but way late. After a month on the market, Molitor already had agreed to terms with the Twins.

Job conditions

Before Marlins assistant GM Frank Wren turned down an opportunity to be general manager of the San Diego Padres, he was told that he would have to make room for two people on his staff -- Frank Robinson and Eddie Epstein, both former employees of the Orioles.

* New Milwaukee center fielder Chuck Carr, acquired from Florida: "I know it's going to be cold up there, but I'm not looking for this Carr to stall in cold weather." Gong.

* Look for Tony Phillips to sign with St. Louis and play third base. Once the Chicago Cubs nontender Todd Zeile, he probably is headed to Philadelphia.

Working on Knight moves

When Ray Knight became manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he said there were a couple of players he wanted to dump. One was Darren Lewis, released and claimed on waivers by the Texas Rangers, and another is Mark Portugal. Knight doesn't like their attitudes.

* Strange but true: The Los Angeles Dodgers wanted to sign Greg Gagne to a two-year contract, but he insisted on one. Gagne wants to test life in Los Angeles before committing to a second year.

Idea might catch on

One agent says he heard the Orioles are thinking about signing a strong defensive catcher and using Chris Hoiles as a full-time designated hitter. An Orioles official denied this Friday night, but if Hoiles' shoulder goes bad again and he can't throw, it's an idea worth exploring, particularly if the Orioles don't sign a DH. One possibility is free agent Joe Oliver, who said jokingly last week that he would pay to play for the Orioles.

* A baseball insider chuckled when told how Jaime Torres, the agent for second baseman Roberto Alomar, had sent Orioles GM Pat Gillick a bottle of wine. "Maybe it was from the same stock he was drinking when he gave Gillick that $23 million proposal," said the insider.

* Timing is everything, and the year the Atlanta Braves win their first World Series in nearly 40 years, author Gary Caruso and the Temple University Press are out with the "The Braves Encyclopedia," a delightfully thorough history of the team.

* The shortest home run in baseball this year, according to the final tally of IBM's Tale of the Tape, belonged to Oriole Rafael Palmeiro. One of his homers traveled 314 feet.

* A New York tabloid published the names of former

major-leaguers allegedly investigated in an IRS probe of a baseball card show in 1989. Former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Tony Perez, a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, was one of those named -- at about the same time Hall of Fame ballots went out. "I was there and I was paid $4,500," Perez said. "But I paid my taxes on it. I never heard from any newspaper to ask me about it and I never heard from the IRS. I called my tax man when I saw my name in the paper and he said I have no problem with the IRS. I don't know what is going on. I don't need this right now. I hope this doesn't hurt me [in balloting]."

Defectors interest O's

The lawyer who represents pitchers Livan Hernandez and Osvaldo Fernandez, Cuban defectors who played for Fidel Castro's national team and are auditioning in winter ball, said Friday that the Orioles are one of five teams the duo will visit in the next few weeks. They will talk to the Rangers on Dec. 17, the Marlins on Dec. 19, and Boston, the Yankees and the Orioles after Christmas. The Orioles have major interest in Hernandez, 20, who scouts project to be a impact pitcher. But look for the Marlins to grab Hernandez for a bonus in the range of $2 million. With their large Cuban constituency around Miami, Florida can't afford not to sign the right-hander.

* The Orioles are losing Paul Fryar, their Southern California scout, who's planning a jump to another organization. Much has been made of their thin farm system, the lack of position prospects in the Double-A and Triple-A levels. But GM Pat Gillick's biggest challenge may be in bolstering the scouting department, which by most accounts is relatively thin.

By the numbers

* During the past eight seasons, Randy Myers has accumulated at least 21 saves seven times. He has led the NL twice, in 1993 (53) and 1995 (38).

* Last year, left-handers batted just .130 against the left-handed Myers, right-handers .267.

* Rick Aguilera pitched on consecutive days in only 12 of his 52 appearances.

* Aguilera, a right-hander, actually was stronger against left-handers (.205) than right-handers (.306).

* With runners on base, batters hit just .179 against Aguilera.

* Among the hitters Aguilera is most successful against is Rafael Palmeiro, who is 2-for-18 (.111) with eight strikeouts.

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