Wednesday, February 09, 2000

New Griffey glitch: Tampering

Agent, Reds talked contract without baseball's permission

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ken Griffey Jr. saga took a dramatic turn Tuesday when Brian Goldberg, the agent for the baseball superstar, obtained permission from the Mariners to negotiate a multiyear contract directly with the Reds, and indicated Mr. Griffey would take less money to play in Cincinnati.

        But that development raised eyebrows among Major League Baseball officials, who said such negotiations would constitute tampering.

        Mr. Goldberg said Mr. Griffey, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him $8.5 million this year, is prepared to accept a deal for less than the eight-year, $135 million package he spurned from Seattle.

        One source involved with the talks said Mr. Griffey had endorsed a proposal worth about $8 million a year for eight seasons — roughly half of what today's elite players earn. Under the proposal, he then would receive $2 million to $3 million per year from 2009 to 2025, though it's unknown whether those sums would be adjusted for inflation.

        Mr. Goldberg was unavailable for comment throughout most of Tuesday. He was believed to be consulting with advisers for Carl Lindner, the Reds' principal owner.

        But tampering loomed as a possible glitch.

        Major League Baseball prohibits teams from negotiating with players under contract to other clubs. An acquiring team involved in a trade may ask the commissioner's office for a 72-hour period in which it can forge a new contract with a player in the deal.

        A baseball spokesman said the Reds and Mariners had not received this permission.

        “If what happened indeed happened, then we're obviously going to have to investigate,” spokesman Rich Levin said.

        But a charge of tampering wouldn't necessarily scuttle a deal.

        “There's a 95 percent chance that this is going to happen,” said an industry source familiar with the talks. “Seattle is trying to get the best deal it can.”

        Reds Chief Operating Officer John Allen and General Manager Jim Bowden would not comment on any matters relating to Mr. Griffey, but numerous team sources confirmed that the team was prepared to release a statement declaring it no longer would pursue a deal for him — until Mr. Goldberg's bombshell.

        Though the parameters for a deal remained in flux, some aspects were clear:

        • The package of three or four players Cincinnati would send Seattle will be heavy on pitching and young, relatively low-salaried players.

        Industry sources said that when the teams approached a deal last weekend that Mr. Lindner shelved, the Mariners had agreed to take right-hander Brett Tomko, left-hander Dennys Reyes and minor-league infielder Antonio Perez. But the teams couldn't agree on a fourth player. Seattle wanted catcher Jason LaRue; the Reds wanted to include minor-league right-hander Rob Bell.

        Rookie of the Year right-hander Scott Williamson, mentioned as part of virtually every trade scenario since the Mariners placed Mr. Griffey on the market, still could be involved. “It's impossible to imagine Williamson's not in the deal,” said an industry source.

        Two baseball sources said that one of the players the Reds were balking at including in the deal but might have to trade was a prospect previously deemed “untouchable,” shortstop Travis Dawkins.

        • The Mariners might pay part, but not all, of the difference between Mr. Griffey's 2000 salary and the wages of the players Cincinnati will send to Seattle. Having swelled their team payroll to $70 million by signing six free-agent players, the Mariners need some financial relief.

        • Pressure has mounted within the Mariners organization to trade Mr. Griffey, though top club officials said as late as Monday that they expected him to return to their lineup this season.

        Sources have repeated that Mariners Chief Operating Officer Howard Lincoln has told General Manager Pat Gillick to make the best deal he can while insisting that Mr. Griffey be gone before Seattle's full squad reports to spring training Feb. 22. One source added that Mr. Griffey has not shipped equipment and belongings that he normally would send to the Mariners' spring-training complex in Peoria, Ariz.

        Mr. Griffey's personal deadline for a deal — believed to be later this week — and his recent remarks about the difficulty of returning to Seattle in light of death threats also made time a factor.

        The Enquirer reported Monday that the Reds' concerns over the financial impact of acquiring Mr. Griffey prompted Mr. Lindner to table the deal agreed upon by both sides' baseball people. Mr. Allen outlined the franchise's position in a response to a fan's e-mail that was posted on the Internet:

        “It is not all about $$$, especially for the 2000 season. The 16-20 million a year for 2001 and beyond is a huge concern but not the 2000 salary amount of $9 million (with incentives). Of just as big a concern is the 4 players they are asking for in return for a player that will be a free agent in 2001.

        “This team won 96 games without Griffey in '99. If we give them the players they want for Griffey, there is no way we will win near that many games since we will decimate our pitching staff to do the deal. How do you explain to our fans that we gave up on winning to get Griffey?”


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