Kevin McReynolds took batting practice Monday for the first time since injuring his left wrist in the National League Championship Series last October. The recovery process will take time but, so far, McReynolds is patient.
"There's plenty of time before the season starts," he said after stepping out of the batting cage and turning off the pitching machine. "There's no reason for me to rush it."
Time is running out, however, on McReynolds' salary negotiations. The 25-year old native of Little Rock, Ark., is one of only two regulars (Tony Gwynn is the other) to report for the opening of spring training with the pitchers and catchers. And he did so before putting his signature on a Padre contract.
McReynolds joins a long list of major-league players whose agents believe they are worth more than the average general manager is willing to offer. In this case, the principals are Tom Selakovich, McReynolds' agent, and Padre General Manager Jack McKeon. Negotiations, like recoveries, take time.
"We're miles apart," Selakovich said via telephone on Monday.
If that gap isn't closed by March 10, the day which all major-league clubs must have all their players signed, the Padres have the right to simply renew McReynolds' contract with a minimal raise. According to Selakovich, McReynolds made $62,000 last season, excluding his share of the Padres' playoff and World Series earnings.
Selakovich is asking for a substantial raise.
"We're looking for a one-year contract in the $275,000 to $325,000 area," he said.
Selakovich said he arrived at that figure based on what players of similar stature and experience are making. The players he said he used as barometers are Philadelphia infielder Juan Samuel and Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.
"We're asking for a figure above Samuel's salary, but below Valenzuela's," he said.
McKeon's position is fairly clear-cut.
"We've made him a very fair offer," he said. "We've offered him a raise of more than $100,000. If someone came in and offered you a raise of more than $100,000, would you be insulted?"
Both sides said they believed an agreement could be reached, but McKeon seems to have the better bargaining position. McReynolds could not have his contract settled through arbitration. To be eligible for arbitration, a player must have a minimum of two years of major-league service. McReynolds' term of service spans one year, 52 days.
"He's going to be signed by March 10, whether he signs his contract or we renew him," McKeon said. McReynolds will be eligible to go to arbitration next year, however, and Selakovich said it would behoove the club to renew the contract at a substantial increase.
"If they sign him to a contract that's unacceptable to him, then next year, in arbitration, it'll be my job to see that he gets compensated.
"If they lowball him, it's in their worst interest, because it'll come back to haunt them next year."
This isn't the first time Selakovich and McKeon have squared off in a salary dispute.
"I've gone toe-to-toe with him in the past," Selakovich said. "I represented (former Padre pitcher) Tim Lollar in 1982 in the first arbitration case in the Padres' history, and we won."
Selakovich went on to describe McKeon as a "great guy," and praised him for not bringing McReynolds' wrist injury into the salary talks. But flattery, McKeon said, will get Selakovich nowhere.
"I'm a great guy, but I'm not one of those guys who just falls over and gives in to whatever he says he wants," he said.
McReynolds hit .278 with 20 home runs and 75 RBIs last season and was 3 for 10 in the playoffs against Chicago before injuring his wrist while attempting to break up a double play in Game 4. While his contract situation remains unsettled, McReynolds is trying to get back in the swing of things. He seemed pleasantly surprised after Monday's brief session of batting practice.
"It felt better than I thought it would," he said. "It's still a little sore, but there's going to be pain throughout.
"As long as I get 5 or 10 more cuts in each day, I'll be making progress."