Thursday, January 31, 2002

SULLIVAN: Shaw looks set to retire

'Discount' still out of Reds' range

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jeff Shaw makes a lot of sense for the Cincinnati Reds but too many dollars.

        He wants to pitch for the home team but has yet to entertain an offer.

        He is the best relief pitcher on the free agent market, yet he might retire if the Reds won't put him to work. He is the most baffled man in baseball.

        “I don't know what more we could do,” Shaw said Wednesday night from this home in Washington Court House. “I just don't understand when players want to play in a certain city and they want to play at home, why something can't be done.”

        Shaw saved 43 games last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he's still looking for a job less than three weeks before spring training. He would like to complete his career commuting from Washington Court House to Cinergy Field, and he has had enough baseball success that he can afford to be choosey.

        Shaw has made two different pitches to the Reds, and they have yet to offer at either of them. Money is so tight around Cinergy Field these days that Mike Brown is starting to look like a spendthrift.

        You would think Reds owner Carl Lindner could free up some cash for an accomplished closer offering a hometown discount. You would think Shaw would rather pitch than collect his pension. Yet 16 days from spring training, the two sides appear intractable.

        “As it stands right now, I expect Jeff to stay at home,” agent Joe Bick said. “I think he's retired unless he calls me and surprises me. There have been a number of other opportunities out there for Jeff that he has really had little interest in exploring.”

        After the Dodgers declined to exercise Shaw's $7.05 million option for the 2002 season, the 35-year-old right-hander received repeated calls from Boston manager Joe Kerrigan, and feelers from such wealthy franchises as the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies and New York Mets.

        Yet rather than resume the life of an absentee father by signing with some team far from home, Shaw sought and received an audience with Lindner. He would meet twice with Lindner in an effort to reunite with the Reds, proposing one- and two-year contracts in which most of his 2002 salary would be deferred. But the Reds never countered, much less closed the deal.

        “This was a combination baseball and economic decision,” said John Allen, the Reds' chief operating officer. “It wasn't just all economics, it was a combination. There were some deferred compensation parts to this deal, but you were looking in excess of $11million for two years. It did not make economic sense for where we are.”

        Because the Reds are already deep in the bullpen, and because moving Danny Graves to the starting rotation is still more conceptual than commitment, Shaw strikes some Reds executives as a luxury. Because he blew nine saves last season, allowed 10 home runs in 74 2/3 innings and compiled an ERA of 3.62, Shaw is perceived in some places as serviceable rather than spectacular.

        Still, it's troubling when a pitcher with Shaw's pedigree expresses a preference to play in Cincinnati and the Reds can't accommodate him. Only so many ballplayers will take less to play here, and the Reds thus far have been unable to clone Ken Griffey Jr.

        “I don't want to go anywhere just to play,” Shaw said. “I want to finish my career as a Red.”

        Aware of the Reds' cash-flow concerns preceding the opening of Great American Ball Park, Shaw and Bick outlined a one-year deal that called for $1.5 million in salary and $4.5 million in deferred payments. When Lindner asked for a two-year proposal, the Shaw camp responded with a $12 million package, again heavy on deferred money.

        Three weeks ago, Allen notified Shaw that the Reds were in no position to open negotiations. Three weeks later, Bick says, “there's nothing there to tell me there's any reason to be hopeful.”

        Shaw has an offer to coach eighth-grade basketball. If something doesn't break soon, he may end up taking it.

        “It's not about money anymore,” Shaw said. “I've got enough to live off. I've got my 10 years' service in (for baseball's pension). And I'm 35. I'm in the in-between stage where I'm not real young and not real old. I've got two or three good years left. I could probably pitch 'til I'm 39, maybe 40. But if I don't, then I'll accept that because I've had a good career.”

        Until the Reds make an offer, Shaw has little incentive to consider further concessions. The Reds' best hope may be that Shaw's desire to keep playing eventually overcomes his business sense. Andre Dawson offered to sign a blank contract to play for the Chicago Cubs in 1987.

        Jeff Shaw shouldn't have to stoop to that, but the Reds aren't leaving him many alternatives.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:

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