There's a mutiny brewing in Seattle, where superstar Ken Griffey is making noises about jumping ship and popular shortstop Alex Rodriguez is dropping hints that he might be soon to follow.
Nothing is imminent. Both players are signed through the 2000 season, but both reportedly have turned up their noses at a preemptive attempt by the club to initiate negotiations to extend their current contracts.
Griffey told the Tacoma News Tribune the other day that the club ought to be spending its money on pitching then told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the organization must show a commitment to winning for him to remain beyond the term of his current contract. He wants to play in a World Series while he's still young enough to enjoy it.
Rodriguez said recently that he owes it to the team to consider any offer, but hinted that he also owes it to himself to leave his options open at a time when salaries are going through the roof and the medium-market Mariners are not exactly positioned well to compete for the best talent.
In short, Mariners fans had better enjoy watching Griffey and Rodriguez playing in the same lineup while they can.
The Mariners will be moving into a new stadium this summer, but the latest spike in baseball's salary structure has torpedoed the notion that all it takes is a high-revenue ballpark to compete with the large-market clubs.
Griffey and Rodriguez could break Kevin Brown's salary record (if it's still standing) when they reach the open market, so the odds are stacked heavily against the Mariners keeping them together in Seattle beyond 2000.
That might change if the front office can rebuild the pitching staff by next season and re-establish the club as a world title contender, but with pitching talent in such tremendous demand, it seems unlikely that the Mariners will re-emerge as a strong playoff team before the clock begins to run out on its two most popular stars.
OK, so maybe baseball fans are in for a big home run letdown this year, but there is the potential for a real feel-good story to develop in Milwaukee, where the Brewers have signed left-handed starter Jim Abbott to a one-year contract.
Abbott, who overcame a significant physical disability (he was born without a right hand) to become a solid major-league pitcher, is hoping to continue the successful comeback he made with the Chicago White Sox last year.
He made five starts for the White Sox at the end of last season and went 5-0 after returning from more than a year off. Though he wasn't the same overpowering pitcher who threw a no-hitter for the New York Yankees, he was effective enough to create the possibility of a big season in 1999.
How could anyone possibly root against him? Not only did he overcome a huge physical obstacle to win an Olympic gold medal and establish himself as a quality major-league pitcher, he did it with tremendous class and style.
This is one time to throw objectivity to the wind. You've got to be pulling for him to be the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
The other comeback kid
Former Orioles pitcher Ben McDonald could soon sign with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, though agent Scott Boras is trying to build up his value by claiming that there are several teams interested in signing him to an incentive-laden minor-league contract.
McDonald missed the 1998 season recovering from extensive shoulder surgery and might not be at full strength until May or June, but could turn out to be the bargain acquisition of the year if his rehabilitation program is successful.
Need an illustration of the growing divide between the large-revenue clubs and the rest of major-league baseball? Consider the contract that pitcher Sterling Hitchcock just signed with the San Diego Padres.
Hitchcock's three-year, $15.5 million deal is the largest contract ever signed by a Padres player, and the total barely exceeds the average annual salary called for the seven-year, $15 million deal that the Los Angeles Dodgers handed former Padres ace Kevin Brown.
The Florida Marlins are the only major-league team that hasn't signed at least one of the 133 players who declared for free agency in November.
New owner John Henry got into the driver's seat too late to compete for any of the top-name free agents and probably would not have authorized a free-agent shopping spree, anyway. But look for the club to be more active next winter.
Going west again
The Dodgers are close to a deal with an Arizona tribal community to relocate their spring training operation, which would end more than a half-century of spring training tradition in Vero Beach, Fla.
Fox Sports is eager to move the spring camp closer to the team's fan base, so it likely will put its sprawling Dodgertown facility up for sale to either another major-league team or to real estate developers.
That's too bad, because the link to Florida helped the franchise maintain its ties with the East Coast and its national appeal after it abandoned Brooklyn to open up the West Coast to major-league baseball.
Orioles officials have shown some mild interest in the site, but still seem more likely to work out a deal for a new training facility with a community closer to their present Fort Lauderdale spring training home.
Pub Date: 1/31/99