Friday, January 05, 2001

Reds hope to avoid salary conflicts

Team prepared for salary arbitration with trades

By Chris Haft
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Most of the discomfort of salary arbitration already may be over for the Reds. Club management has prepared itself for this expensive tidal wave, which officially hits today as arbitration-eligible players can begin filing.

        Knowing first baseman Sean Casey, closer Danny Graves, second baseman Pokey Reese, outfielder Dmitri Young and possibly reliever Scott Sullivan will command more than $2 million apiece through arbitration, Cincinnati trimmed a projected $9 million in 2001 salaries this offseason by trading pitchers Steve Parris and Ron Villone, catcher Eddie Taubensee and utilityman Chris Stynes.

        Moreover, the Reds are hoping arbitration itself will be a relatively painless process, void of the sometimes volatile exchanges that can take place between player and front office. Avoiding the process altogether would be the team's first option, however.

        “We'd prefer to have amicable settlements that are fair for both the club and the player,” said Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who praised Sullivan in a recent interview. Though the Reds went to hearings last year with Parris and Sullivan, Bowden said, “Our preference is to work deals out.”

        Given the popularity of the players involved, the Reds might risk a public backlash if salary matters turn sour.

        “We've done a lot for Cincinnati and the Reds,” Graves said. “I think we're all good enough people who represent the Reds well.

        We're not going to go out, get in trouble and give the Reds a bad name. Those are the kind of guys you want on the ballclub, right?”

        The Reds would shock observers by signing one of their arbitration-eligibles to a multiyear contract. Bowden has repeated that, under the team's financial constraints, taking the year-to-year approach of arbitration is more economical than assuming the fixed yet potentially exorbitant expense of long-term deals. The Reds are targeting a payroll in the $40 million-$42 million range.

        Arbitration is expensive. Players who filed earned average raises of $1.25 million in 1999 and more than $1.1 million last year. Though 14 Reds have qualified for arbitration, just seven remain. Besides the aforementioned five, outfielder Alex Ochoa and right-hander Osvaldo Fernandez also are arbitration-eligible.

        Little is expected to happen immediately. Players may file through Jan.15. Those who remain unsigned by Jan.18 will exchange proposals for one-year salaries with their respective clubs that day. Hearings will be scheduled for players and teams who can't compromise.

        The Chicago Cubs avoided arbitration earlier this week with left-hander Felix Heredia and third baseman Bill Mueller, signing them to two-year contracts, but the Reds are unlikely to follow suit. It's unwritten but understood the players' union discourages settlements before figures are exchanged.

        “We'll know a lot more as we get closer to that (Jan.18) date,” Bowden said.


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