Arbitrator George Nicolau's recent decision in favor of the players in the Class of '86 collusion case could blow the free-agent market wide open this year. Many of the players involved—including pitchers Jim Clancy (Toronto) and Doyle Alexander (Detroit), and catchers Bob Boone (California), Rich Gedman (Boston), Ernie Whitt (Toronto) and Lance Parrish (Philadelphia)—are expected to be granted free-look free agency by Nicolau at the end of the season, giving them a chance to test the market without jeopardizing their current contracts.
Those players should generate a lot of interest because, unlike regular free agents, they won't require draft-choice compensation. "The players, agents and arbitrators don't understand it, but draft choices are important," says Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson. "Most teams are reluctant to give up a first-round pick for a veteran who they'll have for only a year or two."
This year's crop of potential regular free agents includes some intriguing names, especially for teams looking for pitching. The most likely millionaire-to-be is Red Sox starter Bruce Hurst, who was 16-5 with a 3.82 ERA at week's end. Not only is he a southpaw with a 44-26 record for the last three years, but he can also pitch in the clutch. To keep Hurst in Boston, the Red Sox traded for his friend, pitcher Mike Boddicker, which helped their case. But Hurst has said that he would like to play in a bigger stadium than Fenway, even though he is 11-1 at home this year. Another pitcher who could do well in the open market is Phillie closer Steve Bedrosian (25 saves. 3.93 ERA), winner of the National League's Cy Young Award in '87. The bidding should also be lively for San Diego's Eric Show (13-11, 3.20 ERA), Pittsburgh's Dave LaPoint (4-0, 1.19 ERA with the Pirates; 10-11, 3.40 ERA with the White Sox) and Seattle's Mike Moore (7-14, 3.89 ERA).
The most sought-after position player will probably be Rangers shortstop Scott Fletcher, who was hitting .277 through Sunday. Several teams, including the Pirates and Blue Jays, have tried unsuccessfully to coax Texas into trading Fletcher this season. Twins second baseman Tom Herr should also be available, but he has been troubled by a hamstring injury this season and at 32 might have trouble convincing interested teams—such as Philadelphia. Montreal and Toronto—that he is more than just a .250 hitter. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who have 14 potential free agents on their roster, may lose second baseman Steve Sax or outfielder Mike Marshall unless they make them sizable offers.
The compensation issue could reduce the marketability of several veteran free agents, in particular pitchers Mike Flanagan (Toronto), Bert Blyleven (Minnesota) and Nolan Ryan (Houston). Flanagan, 36, would like to move to a new team, but the Blue Jays don't want him to leave because they may lose Clancy at the end of the season and let another starter, Dave Stieb, become a free agent rather than pay the remaining $4.7 million on his contract over the next three years. The 37-year-old Blyleven had agreed to a two-year, $2.3 million deal back in July but refused to sign it when the Twins would not guarantee payment during a possible strike or lockout in 1990. Now Blyleven, 2-8 with a 7.36 ERA since the All-Star break, has lost value. At 41, Ryan is leading the National League in strikeouts with 211 and has pitched more innings (209) than anyone else on the Astros' staff. But Houston is likely to ask him to take a pay cut next year to help reduce its payroll. If that happens, Ryan has said he might retire. Says Sax, "Anybody who thinks that [he's getting old] should get a bat and helmet and try to hit him."
Though many of his peers think the White Sox' Jim Fregosi should be Manager of the Year for keeping his bargain-basement team out of the cellar, he may be the first manager to get the ax at the end of the season. The reason: his cool relationship with general manager Larry Himes. Fregosi shouldn't be out of a job for long, however. He could be hired by his old friend. Phillie general manager Lee Thomas, to replace manager Lee Elia, or he might return to the Angels if manager Cookie Rojas is dumped. Houston manager Hal Lanier will also probably be canned if the Astros don't win their division.
Then there is Cincinnati's Pete Rose. Club owner Marge Schott has been noncommittal all year about renewing his contract, but now she says she simply wants to cut his $500,000 salary. "We can't continue to pay him that kind of money, and 'we won't," says Schott. "He hasn't won anything. Nobody knows the names of [the players on]Sparky Anderson's team, and they've been up there all season."
SILLY RULES, PART II
The Players Association filed a grievance last week on behalf of Detroit outfielder Fred Lynn to make him eligible for postseason play, arguing that he was a bona fide member of the Tigers as soon as he agreed to the terms of the trade. Although the commissioner's office has not made a decision yet, sources indicate that Lynn will be allowed to play in the postseason if the Tigers can somehow win the American League East.
Now that that issue is settled, here are three more questions baseball needs to face soon:
1) Why is baseball the only sport that allows teams to expand their rosters during the most important part of the season—the stretch drive? There is no good reason. If the owners want a period when rosters can be expanded, let it be April, when the titles aren't on the line.
2) Why are teams allowed to get around roster limits by putting players who aren't really injured on the disabled list? This happens all the time, but, according to the league offices, no team has ever been denied a disabled list request. When fraud is suspected, the leagues should have an independent physician check out the disabled player. Then perhaps team physicians wouldn't be so quick to write out bogus whiplash reports.
3) Why doesn't baseball eliminate the so-called Mike Andrews Rule, which prohibits teams from replacing injured players once the postseason begins? If catcher Mike Scioscia gets hurt in the opening game of the championship series, the Dodgers will be stuck with only one catcher, Rick Dempsey, for the rest of the playoffs. And if Dempsey gets injured, they will have to use a noncatcher behind the plate. A more sensible solution would be to allow teams to call up players from within their organizations to fill unexpected gaps.
Rangers majority owner Eddie Chiles has reached an agreement in principle to sell his 58% interest in the club to businessmen Bill Mack and Frank Morsani, key figures in the push to bring major league baseball to Tampa. In negotiating the sale, however, Chiles neglected to get Mack and Morsani to agree in writing to keep the Rangers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and now the prospective owners are refusing to promise to do so. To prevent Mack and Morsani from moving the team to Tampa, Chiles has threatened to vote against the sale if it comes before the major league owners for approval. "I'd feel a lot better if I had never made the deal," Chiles said. "I made a mistake, and it turned around and bit me."
When the Mets brought in-fielder Gregg Jefferies up from Tidewater, several teammates were upset. "He's taking away at bats," said in-fielder Dave Magadan. But Jefferies has rekindled the Mets' struggling offense. He has hit .417 with 12 extra-base hits in his first 48 at bats and has played both second and third. Says veteran first baseman Keith Hernandez, "The kid is here to stay."...
One player who has been overlooked in the American League Rookie of the Year race is Brewers designated hitter Joey Meyer, whose 11 homers and 42 RBIs in 263 at bats make him the top power hitter among this year's rookies. Meyer didn't get much playing time until July because third baseman Paul Molitor was the DH....
When Marshall went down with a pulled thigh on Aug. 29, the Dodgers made a pitch to the Yankees for designated hitter Jack Clark, who has hinted that he would like to be traded and will get his wish before next season....
One factor to consider if the Dodgers make the playoffs: Manager Tom Lasorda can use fire-balling starter Tim Belcher as a closer if necessary. Says one scout, "Lasorda can start Orel Hershiser, John Tudor and Tim Leary for six games and finish with Belcher, so no matter how the Dodgers hit or who they play, they have a chance in a short series."
PITCH OF THE YEAR
In a game against the Class A Medford (Ore.) A's on Aug. 15, righthander Mike Beiras of the Bellingham (Wash.) Mariners uncorked a fastball that sailed over the 35-foot backstop, out of the park, landed in the parking lot approximately 150 feet from the mound and then rolled to the other side of the street. "I thought about swinging." said the bemused batter, John Buccheri. "But I was more interested in seeing where it was going to end up."
When San Diego's Keith Moreland hit a homer on Sept. 5 in Candlestick Park, it was his first since June 1. So after crossing home plate, he launched into a cartwheel. "On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 1," said teammate Tony Gwynn, who was annoyed because it looked as if Moreland was trying to show up Giants rookie pitcher Trevor Wilson. "It was spontaneous stupidity," admitted Moreland later.
A HANDFUL OF STARDUST
Going into the All-Star Game, the 10 pitchers on the American League All-Star team had a combined record of 68-30. Since then, they have gone 28-30.
THE LINE ON THE GIANTS
In a Sept. 8 game with the Braves, Giants centerfielder Brett Butler's line was 4 0 4 0. Butler is the team's leadoff hitter and three of his four hits were doubles, yet he didn't score a run. What more do you need to know about the state of San Francisco's fading offense? Though the Giants won that game 3-2, they have lost 14 of their last 17 games and fallen 10 games behind in the National League West.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Pittsburgh pitcher Dave LaPoint, complimenting Vice-President George Bush before a game in Houston: "I love your beer."
•Not only are major league homers down 28% from '87, but also no minor league player has hit 30 this season.
•Last week the Angels gave former slugger Reggie Jackson's number 44 to Triple A veteran Richard Monteleone.
•Mets outfielder Kevin McReynolds is 29 for 29 in stolen bases since June 2, 1987.
•When Houston's Nolan Ryan beat the Dodgers 4-1 on Sept. 8, it was his first complete game in which he hadn't given up a walk since 1983.
•Now that the Angels have recalled lefthander Vance Lovelace from the minors, there are three members of the '81 pitching staff of Tampa's Hillsborough High School in the majors. The others are the Mets' Dwight Gooden and the Expos' Floyd Youmans. Their former pitching coach, Jose Alvarez, is also in the bigs, as a coach with the Braves.
•Hard-luck Mets lefthander Bob Ojeda has gotten 2.9 runs per start from his teammates.
•It's possible that the Reds' Danny Jackson, the Mets' David Cone and the Royals' Mark Gubicza will be among the top three in their leagues in the Cy Young Award balloting. If that happens, half of the top six finishers will have come out of the Kansas City organization.
•Through Sunday, first baseman Gerald Perry of the Braves led the National League with a .312 batting average. At that rate, he could beat Lawrence Doyle's record for the league's lowest winning average since the turn of the century—.320 in 1915.
THE LUCK OF THE DRAW
Games vs. Contenders
Won-Loss Record vs. Contenders
SOURCE: STATS, INC.