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There’s Still Some Good Material Unclaimed

Sun., May 25, 1997

During spring training, it appeared that the 1997 free-agent class would be one of the strongest ever.

Since then, nearly a dozen players have agreed to extensions, including John Burkett, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Cal Ripken, Curt Schilling and Gary Sheffield.

But many stars remain eligible to file following the World Series, including Mark McGwire, Greg Maddux, Brady Anderson, Sammy Sosa, Ivan Rodriguez, Andres Galarraga, John Olerud, Wilson Alvarez, Cecil Fielder, Dean Palmer, Joe Carter and Rod Beck.

“There is no question that star players who end up in the free-agency option are going to command prices higher than would be presently forecast,” said agent Tom Reich, who may negotiate an extension for Sosa.

But teams would rather spend the money than go the trade route.

“In order to get a star player who has big quality years in front of him and isn’t just for the history books, you normally have to give up three players,” Reich said.

O’Malley offers protection

Peter O’Malley, negotiating to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch, has offered personal service contracts to his staff in order to protect them from being arbitrarily fired after the sale.

It is the first time most of the employees have had a contract, including general manager Fred Claire, who is expected to receive at least a three-year pact.

“I just think it’s the right thing to do at this time,” O’Malley was quoted as saying in Saturday’s editions of the Los Angeles Times. “The management team has a great reputation and will be recognized for a job well done with a look toward the future. This will not be a very difficult or long process, but it provides stability.”

The Dodgers are negotiating the contracts without the input of Murdoch, said O’Malley, whose family has owned the team since 1950.

“We have no handshake agreement and there is nothing in writing with anybody,” O’Malley said. “This is strictly with the ballclub.”

Johnson absent from Orioles

Baltimore Orioles manager Davey Johnson left the team Saturday and went home to Winter Park, Fla., for what the club called “personal reasons.”

Orioles spokesman John Maroon declined to specify the reason for Johnson’s departure except to say there was nothing wrong with the manager’s health. He said Johnson was not likely to rejoin the club until at least Monday in New York.

“He left because of a personal situation and will return to the team as soon as he can,” Maroon said.

Hitting coach Rick Down took over the managerial duties for the second game of a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians.

Beeston may go to New York

It appears that Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston could be moving to New York as soon as July, taking over the job of running the commissioner’s office on a day-to-day basis.

Beeston apparently does not want to be part of the Blue Jays’ front office after the pending sale of the franchise is approved. While his title hasn’t been determined (it could be deputy commissioner or chief operating officer), it appears he will take over most of the responsibilities of marketing head Greg Murphy, who will be fired, according to many baseball officials and team owners.

With Beeston in New York, owners may decide not to bring an outsider in as commissioner and again attempt to persuade Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig to take the job on a permanent basis.

Talk about good timing

David Justice and Marquis Grissom were definitely in the right place at the right time.

The Cleveland Indians needed to make a statement to their fans after reshaping a club that had been built around Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga. That public relations move added up to a guaranteed $28 million for Justice and $25 million guaranteed for Grissom.

The sizes of the contracts - four years at $7 million a year for Justice; five years at $5 million a year for Grissom - were not that amazing. Rather it was the lack of leverage from these two former Atlanta Braves, along with the length of their deals, that is interesting.

Justice, who averaged only 114 games in his seven seasons in Atlanta, will be 36 when his new deal expires after 2002 (there’s an option for 2003). It wasn’t as though he was about to become a free agent. The Indians, who traded Lofton and left-hander Alan Embree to Atlanta for Justice and Grissom, inherited an agreement that ran through next season.

Grissom will be 35 when his new deal expires after 2002 (he also has an option for 2003). He couldn’t have become a free agent until after the 1999 season.

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