WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Tom Glavine was talking with reporters about his potential value as a free agent when Greg Maddux overheard the conversation at his adjoining locker.
"Ten million," Maddux said.
Well, Glavine continued, he only wants a fair offer from the Atlanta Braves, but he's not sure what a fair offer is in this market, hasn't even thought about it, to tell you the truth.
"Eight digits," Maddux said.
Quite a joker, that four-time Cy Young Award winner, but why not? Both he and Glavine are going to get the last laugh in their next contracts, whether or not they stay in Atlanta.
Braves general manager John Schuerholz said yesterday that the club wants to keep both pitchers, but the prospect of signing them is so daunting, he has yet to initiate talks regarding contract extensions.
Come next winter, the number might not sound so ridiculous. Not for Maddux. Not for Glavine. And not for the Orioles' Mike Mussina, who also is eligible for free agency.
Barry Bonds signed for $11.5 million a year, Albert Belle $11 million and Roger Clemens $8 million. Which is why the Orioles need to act swiftly on Mussina, Cal Ripken and, if they're interested, Brady Anderson.
As Schuerholz can attest, the numbers never go backward. Heck, the Braves committed more than $60 million to pitchers John Smoltz, Denny Neagle and Mark Wohlers this winter without even getting to Maddux and Glavine.
"What is confounding to me is not that it doesn't go backward, but when it goes forward, it goes forward in quantitative leaps that make you scratch your head," Schuerholz said.
"If the highest-paid player in the game is making $8 million, why does the next guy go to 10 or 11? Why shouldn't it be 8.5 or 9?"
The market is forever out of control, and Schuerholz is so terrified of allowing Maddux and Glavine to become free agents, he's considering the possibility of negotiating with them during the season.
The Braves, like the Orioles, have a policy of suspending talks once the season begins. But Schuerholz doesn't expect to complete a deal with either pitcher by Opening Day.
"It's unlikely because of the magnitude of these matters," he said. "But if we can't get it done before the season, our concern is that by waiting until the end of the season the market will get volatile."
Schuerholz re-signed Smoltz as a free agent, but Mussina might be the only other No. 1 starter available next winter. With two new expansion teams ready to spend, the bidding could grow even more frenzied.
Maddux said he is open to extending negotiations -- "It would be easier for a player to do it while the season is not going on, but I don't really have a preference," he said.
Glavine also indicated it would be no problem, saying, "Personally, it's not going to bother me. That's what I pay my agent for. It's not something I'm going to worry about, day in and day out."
No, Schuerholz is the one with the biggest worries.
Dominant starting pitching is the reason the Braves have appeared in four of the past five World Series. But the club can't keep Maddux and Glavine unless it purges other high-salaried players.
Schuerholz is trying -- he wants to trade first baseman Fred McGriff and outfielder David Justice. The Braves can easily replace both sluggers, if Ryan Klesko moves to first and Jermaine Dye and Andruw Jones take over in the outfield.
Young players balance the payroll, making scouting and player development more important than ever. The Braves serve as an example not only to the Orioles, but to all of baseball.
And still, Schuerholz is in a bind.
He said the Braves will definitely sign one of their pitchers, "unequivocally, without blinking an eye, yes. Then, we'd go into next season with a three-man starting rotation that is pretty substantial."
But if he gives Maddux and Glavine the same deal as Smoltz, the Braves' top four starters will earn a combined $26.75 million next season. And with another escalation likely, the number probably will be closer to $30 million.
"It's not just, 'It's Maddux and Glavine, you have to sign them,' " Schuerholz said. "Yes, it's Maddux and Glavine, and we want to sign them. But it's a very complex matter.
"These are not just isolated cases. They have profound implications on how the rest of the team is structured. That's why we're prolonging this as long as we are."
Of the two, Glavine seems more likely to stay -- he has been with the Braves his entire career. Maddux, on the other hand, is represented by agent Scott Boras, who is known for seeking every last dollar.
Both pitchers turn 31 within the next two months, making them 3 years older than Mussina, but still in the prime of their careers. Both pitchers would be No. 1 starters anywhere but Atlanta, where Smoltz is the defending Cy Young Award winner.
How much is each worth?
Don't tell Schuerholz, but Maddux might not have been kidding.
Eight digits. Ten million.
Pub Date: 2/24/97