Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Young Reds stars won't get long-term deals

Club prefers arbitration process to weighty multiyear contracts

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Long-term contracts can help a team preserve its roster and control costs, but the Reds prefer the year-to-year approach.

        So don't look for them to lock up any of their arbitration-eligible young stars — Sean Casey, Pokey Reese, Danny Graves or Dmitri Young — to multiyear deals.

        “From a financial perspective, we don't want to get boxed in and be restricted in what we're able to do with the dollars we have,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said. “... We won't have to trade Casey, Young, Reese or Graves because we're boxed in to other long-term deals.”

        Even if management and the players simply exchange salary figures through the arbitration process and compromise on a number to avoid potentially divisive hearings, Casey, Graves, Reese and Young are virtually assured of earning raises to about $3 million apiece.

        The need to accommodate those four drove the offseason trades of pitchers Ron Villone and Steve Parris, catcher Eddie Taubensee and utilityman Chris Stynes, as well as the Aug.31 Dante Bichette deal. Those departures trimmed a projected $15 million in 2001 salaries. Reds officials refuse to comment on the 2001 payroll, which is believed to be $40 million to $42 million. Three other arbitration-eligible players — right-handers Osvaldo Fernandez and Scott Sullivan and outfielder Alex Ochoa — won't be cheap to sign.

        The Reds could fix future costs by signing Casey, Graves, Reese or Young to long-term contracts. But the Reds have decided to go year to year, even though players filing for arbitration earned average raises of $1.25 million in 1999 and more than $1.1 million last year.

        In the Reds' view, they run the risk of being forced to trade productive players if they sign them to multiyear commitments that grow burdensome. Under the franchise's economic constraints, the Reds prefer to address contracts yearly and adjust the roster accordingly while retaining their nucleus of talent.

        Bowden isn't actively negotiating multiyear deals with the agents of any of his leading arbitration-eligible players. Alan Nero, Graves' agent, said Tuesday he hasn't heard from Bowden since responding in writing to Cincinnati's initial proposal shortly before the end of the season.

        “We want to be able to keep the young core together,” Bowden said. “We've been able to do that so far and hopefully we'll continue. ... We're open to any discussions (to) sign our good, young core players to long-term deals that are financially beneficial to the club. But we feel it would cost us more to sign them multi year than to go to arbitration.”

        Little or nothing is expected to occur between the Reds and any arbitration-eligible player before Jan.18, when players and clubs exchange salary figures. Those provide a basis for negotiations. In the last two years, only 21 of 129 players who filed for arbitration went to hearings with their clubs.

        “When you negotiate (without arbitration figures), both sides are speculating where the market's going,” Nero said. “When you (exchange figures), you both draw lines in the sand ... and all of a sudden, you're dealing with reality instead of speculation. It's better to negotiate once the numbers are filed. You can calculate the risks.”


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