Orioles, Johnson face off today; Catcher seeks $5.1M in arbitration case; club offering $3.9M


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Barely two months after trading for Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson, the Orioles are scheduled to argue against him in an arbitration hearing inside a Tampa hotel suite today. The outcome could be the second-largest judgment since the owners and players instituted the process.

Johnson, who won a controversial $3.3 million judgment over the Florida Marlins last February, is seeking $5.1 million compared with the Orioles' offer of $3.9 million.

Barring a last-minute compromise, which Orioles general manager Frank Wren described yesterday as unlikely, a panel of three arbiters must choose one of the two figures. There is no middle ground.

"This is the course we've decided to take," Wren said yesterday at the Orioles' spring training headquarters. "We're prepared to see it through."

Wren has steadfastly refused to open negotiations for a multi-year contract pending today's ruling.

"I don't feel this is the right time to negotiate a long-term deal with this player," Wren said.

The Orioles last went to a hearing in 1996, with reliever Arthur Rhodes. They avoided a hearing with Jeffrey Hammonds last year by signing him to a three-year deal during a break in the hearing.

The Orioles may be banking that a recent tide of rulings will work in their favor. So far, clubs have won six of seven rulings. The only loss for management came Tuesday when an arbiter found in favor of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who received a $5 million judgment. The club had offered $3.2 million.

A finding in Johnson's favor would leave him trailing only Jack McDowell's $5.4 million losing outcome in 1994. Should the panel side with the Orioles, Johnson would still receive an 18.2 percent raise after batting .218 with 19 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Johnson's value, however, lies in his defense, which has earned him four straight Gold Glove Awards and enticed the Orioles to trade closer Armando Benitez to the New York Mets as part of a three-team deal including the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Orioles will likely present a case centered on Johnson's offensive struggles. Johnson has never batted better than .251, hit more than 19 home runs or driven in more than 63 runs in a season.

Whatever today's outcome, Johnson says no bruises will remain. He witnessed last year's hearing and plans on attending today with agent Scott Boras.

"No matter what happens, I'm happy to be in Baltimore. I'm going to do well regardless," Johnson said.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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