Sunday, December 10, 2000

Baseball meeting roundup

Exec blasts Hampton deal; Mets turn attention to Appier

AP Sports Writer

        DALLAS — Now that Mike Hampton has signed with the Colorado Rockies, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez have become the focus of baseball's winter meetings.

        Hampton's record $121 million, eight-year contract was formally announced Saturday, a deal that left other teams scrambling for second-tier pitchers such as Darren Dreifort and Kevin Appier.

        The New York Mets talked to Appier's agents Saturday and were to meet again Sunday. Appier appeared to be leaning toward the Mets, though Baltimore was still in the chase.

        As the meetings neared the completion of their second day, there still hadn't been a single trade.

        In the only other major news Saturday, catcher Todd Hundley reached a preliminary agreement on a $23.5 million, four-year contract with his hometown Chicago Cubs.

        Hampton's contract — the longest for a pitcher since Cleveland gave Wayne Garland a 10-year deal in 1977 — was the focus of an industry still trying to figure out how high salaries will go this offseason.

        “It's more money than Mike will spend in his lifetime,” said the pitcher's agent, Mark Rodgers.

        Sandy Alderson, an executive vice president in the commissioner's office, ripped the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for giving Kevin Brown a $105 million, seven-year deal, calling it an “affront to baseball.”

        “The spin to which that deal was subjected, I think, was just an embarrassment,” he said.

        He then criticized Hampton for saying he made the decision because of family.

        “Announce the deal,” Alderson said. “He's an outstanding pitcher. It's a lot of money. Case closed. I don't want to hear about the Wheat Ridge (Colo.) school system.”

        To him, it was another instance of a team giving in to a player.

        “There is a benefit to saying no from time to time,” Alderson said. “It would be nice for baseball to experience that benefit occasionally.”

        Rodriguez and Ramirez, the top two position players in this year's free-agent class, figure to get even more, possibly breaking the $200 million barrier.

        Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, kept up his meetings with teams, but the winnowing down process had not yet begun. Ramirez's agent, Jeff Moorad, was in California meetings with the Red Sox. While Boston offered $100 million-plus, Ramirez wasn't ready to make a decision and Moorad was due to arrive in Dallas on Sunday.

        Hampton, a 28-year-old left-hander acquired by the New York Mets from Houston a year ago, had four offers of $100 million-plus, turning down St. Louis, the Chicago Cubs and the Mets.

        “What it boils down to is a family decision,” Hampton said. “As a whole, this was the place I could move my family to without taking my kid out of school every three months or so.”

        Hampton, who lived in a rented apartment at Trump Tower in Manhattan, had little interest in staying with the NL champions, who are now desperate for pitching. Mets general manager Steve Phillips, like Alderson, didn't think much of Hampton's claim that his decision was about family, not dollars.

        “It's always the money, especially when it's not about the money,” he said.

        Added Alderson: “When it got to $120 million, no, I don't think money was an issue.”

        Rodgers maintained all the final offers were equivalent.

        “The New York media wants to rake him over the coals,” the agent said. “That's fine, but it's not justified.”

        Hampton's deal breaks the record for total package set in February by Ken Griffey Jr.'s $116.5 million, nine-year contract with Cincinnati. It gives him baseball's third-highest average salary, trailing Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado ($17 million) and New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens ($15.45 million).

        But it also means he will pitch about half his starts in Coors Field, a pitcher's graveyard.

        “There's no doubt it's the toughest place to pitch,” he said. “It's a test I look forward to and something that I think will make me a better pitcher in the long run.”

        The field for Rodriguez appears wide, with Seattle trying to keep him and as many as seven teams trying to lure him away, a group that includes Texas, Los Angeles and possibly the Chicago White Sox, among others.

        Boston has been the most aggressive team in its pursuit of Ramirez, who asked Cleveland for $200 million over 10 years and rejected a $119 million, seven-year contract offered by Cleveland. Phillips said the Mets had only slight interest.

        “We're not going to get crazy on the Manny Ramirez chase,” he said. “We feel that mortgaging our future for an outfielder is not in the best interest of the club.”

        Dreifort has attracted much interest at the meetings and it appears he will get a contract for five years or more averaging $10 million or higher, with the Dodgers the leading contender.

        Hundley hit 24 homers and drove in 70 runs in only 90 games for Los Angeles last season. But he struggled in the field, throwing out only 20 percent of attempted base stealers.

        Hundley, who apparently turned down a higher offer from a different team, gets a $2 million signing bonus, $3 million in 2001, $6 million in 2002-03, and $6.5 million in 2004.

        Hundley's father, Randy, caught 10 seasons for the Cubs and was a fan favorite at Wrigley Field.

        Also Saturday, baseball released a report on minority hiring. Twenty-two percent of team employees are minorities, up from 20 percent in 1997, when the last survey was taken. However, the percentage of black employees among the 30 clubs dropped from 11 percent to 10 percent.

        Among executives and department heads, the percentage of minorities — which includes blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans — rose from 15 percent to 16 percent. The percentage of blacks remained at 8 percent.

        Including the commissioner's office, the percentage of minorities rose from 22 percent to 26 percent and the percentage of blacks rose from 13 percent to 14 percent.


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