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Mussina puts value on a bargain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

How much did Mike Mussina sacrifice?

Maybe $20 million.

Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone said that in baseball's current economic climate, Mussina might have landed a five-year, $40 million contract as a free agent this winter.

Instead, Mussina signed a three-year extension worth more than $21.5 million to stay in Baltimore. And with the Orioles deferring $1.5 million per season with no interest, the deal's present-day value probably is closer to $20 million.

Thus, the $20 million sacrifice in guaranteed money at the end of this season -- and maybe more, considering that Atlanta might re-sign Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, a scenario that could have left Mussina as the only No. 1 starter on the open market.

Mussina, 28, still will earn a hefty paycheck, but at a time when "Show me the money!" is a mantra for most professional athletes, his decision qualified as unusual, even extraordinary.

He received a complete no-trade clause and an incentive package that could push his annual salary well beyond $7 million in present-day value. But by today's standards, he was still a bargain.

It took a while, but Peter Angelos finally recognized as much, perhaps after watching Mussina dominate his first few starts. When the owner wants to move, he moves. Brady Anderson, his next priority, could be signed long-term within a week.

Mussina, Anderson, Cal Ripken -- those were the big three, and they're all going to stay.

Never mind that the deals should have been completed months ago. Once again, no one can question Angelos' commitment to winning.

He ignored the Opening Day negotiating deadline set by general manager Pat Gillick. He met with Mussina face-to-face, excluding the pitcher's agent, Arn Tellem. And he added the no-trade clause and yearly incentives, which Mussina can reach by producing his normal numbers of starts and innings pitched.

By now, Gillick should understand that Angelos loves swooping in as the savior, but why even get upset anymore? When a team is this good, there's plenty of credit to go around.

Indeed, the Orioles are sitting pretty, in more ways than one. Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar can become free agents after next season. You can bet Angelos will tell them, "Look at Mussina. He took less to stay."

That argument might not prove as effective with two players who joined the team as free agents. But Baltimore is a special baseball city. And Mussina undoubtedly learned from Ripken the value of staying in one place.

What he did wasn't unheard of -- Paul Molitor and Terry Steinbach signed below market value to return to their native Minnesota, and seven-time batting champ Tony Gwynn accepted a relatively modest, three-year, $12.6 million extension stay in San Diego.

Mussina, though, is a pitcher -- the pitcher with the highest active winning percentage in the majors. No wonder Tellem opposed the signing. As Mussina said yesterday, "He wanted to be a free agent."

Including his current one-year deal, Mussina wound up with a four-year contract with a present-day value of less than $27 million. The Florida Marlins signed Alex Fernandez -- a lesser pitcher -- to a five-year, $35 million contract last winter.

"It really shows his character, his integrity, who he is," Malone said. "He took less to stay -- that's guaranteed. One can argue how much, but it was substantial."

Tellem can relax -- his reputation is secure after negotiating Albert Belle's landmark $55 million deal. The Major League Baseball Players Association can relax, too. None of its pampered members is going to suffer.

Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz figured to gain the most leverage from the Mussina signing. But even he doesn't think it will make a bit of difference in his negotiations with Glavine and Maddux.

The starting point for those two is the four-year, $31 million contract the Braves awarded John Smoltz last winter -- even though Schuerholz could make a case for Mussina over Glavine.

"I don't think it helps anyone with anything," Schuerholz said yesterday. "You'd like to think that sometimes. If you compare the records of the two guys, Mussina's is pretty favorable.

"He's won more games over a four-year period [68-66]. He's got a higher winning percentage over a three-year period [.684-.629]. He's done a lot of really good things."

But, as Schuerholz pointed out, "Every case is individual."

The clubs should recognize that, and so should the union. Mussina is entitled to his decision.

"I didn't hear any pressure," Mussina said.

What about Tellem?

"If he did, he didn't tell me."

Ron Shapiro, the agent for Ripken and the retired Kirby Puckett, said union chief Donald Fehr would not have opposed the deal.

"There may be people within the players association who might not be entirely happy with it," Shapiro said. "But I can tell you from my experiences with Cal and Kirby that Donald Fehr's approach to contracts like this is, 'Is a player happy? And is this what he wants?' "

But is the union happy?

Mussina isn't so sure.

"They might be unhappy," he said. "I didn't affect too many people that much, at least I don't think so. My intention wasn't to have that effect."

His intention was to stay in Baltimore.

Even if his union objected.

Even if he sacrificed $20 million.

Pub Date: 5/05/97

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