Kirk Gibson Agrees to Dodger Green
Rewarded recently with a second shot at free agency, Kirk Gibson emerged with a reward of another kind Friday night.
He agreed to a three-year, $4.5-million contract with the Dodgers after his agent, Doug Baldwin, and the Dodgers’ top echelon spent several hours ironing out modifications in two controversial contract clauses.
The bottom line is that Gibson, 31 in May, gave up a $1.3-million guarantee in the final year of a three-year contract with the Detroit Tigers to accept a $1-million signing bonus from the Dodgers and salaries of $1.5 million in 1988 and $1 million in both 1989 and ’90.
He is expected to play left field in an outfield that will include another free-agent newcomer, Mike Davis, in right and a second-year Dodger, John Shelby, in center.
Gibson’s acquisition is also expected to move either Pedro Guerrero or Mike Marshall to first base and would seem to leave one or the other expendable in pursuit, perhaps, of a pitcher or a third baseman.
How easy will it be to trade Marshall or Guerrero? Not very.
Guerrero, at 32, is guaranteed $1.7 million this year and will be eligible for free agency when the season ends.
Though an offensive threat, he is basically a one-dimensional player because of his suspect knees and glove. Guerrero himself recognizes his limitations, having asked to be moved to first base.
Marshall, having expressed willingness to play any position the Dodgers select, is thought to have limited market value because of a history of injury and illness.
Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda, contacted after a speaking engagement in Fort Worth Friday night, said he was elated about the addition of the competitive Gibson, confirmed that he would play left field and added that he now seems to have five players--Gibson, Shelby, Davis, Guerrero and Marshall--vying for four positions.
Can Lasorda find a place for all of them?
“Either I do or one of them goes to the bench,” he said.
Or to another club?
“That’s something Fred and I will have to talk about when I get home,” he replied.
Executive Vice President Fred Claire refused to speculate on Marshall’s or Guerrero’s fate.
“I have no intention of making an immediate move,” he said. “We have time to see how the pieces fit.
“Our goal has been to improve the club. Gibson should help us accomplish that. There have been few players who combine his power and speed.
“When you’re coming off the type year we had, I’m not concerned about having too much talent and competition.”
Gibson and six other players who were free agents in the winter of 1985-86 became free agents again after the recent ruling by arbitrator Tom Roberts, penalizing the owners for having acted in concert to restrict the movement of those players.
Each of the seven players affected by Roberts’ judgment had until March 1 to sign with another team. If unsigned then, they could return to their former team under terms of their 1988 contract or remain a free agent, their former contract then being voided.
Speaking from his home in suburban Detroit Friday night, Gibson said the Roberts decision didn’t generate a desire to move, and he really wanted to stay with the Tigers, who responded to Gibson’s free agency by offering only a one-year extension.
“My first choice,” said the former Michigan State football star, “was Detroit, hands down. We tried so many different (contract) scenarios, but the Tigers just weren’t going to budge.
“I looked at my financial picture all day today, and as much as I tried to make Detroit work out, it didn’t make sense. I was only fooling myself.
“The way L.A. structured the contract, I’d have been an idiot to turn it down. I made my choice and I’m happy with it. It’s a new experience for us (Gibson and wife JoAnn have two children), and it’ll only be as positive as we make it.
“I had good times and bad times in Detroit. Obviously, there are a lot of mixed emotions involved. I spent eight years with the Tigers and have grown up a lot.
“But I look on this as a challenge, a fresh start. We’re all excited about it.”
In the wake of the early-evening agreement between agent Baldwin and the Dodgers, Gibson said he had not yet had time to talk with Lasorda or any other Dodger official. He laughed and said:
“That’s not necessary anyway. I know I’m going to play left field and hit third or fourth in the lineup. The contract alone shows what the Dodgers think of me.”
Gibson received no other offers during the owners’ 1985-86 free-agent freeze. He returned to Detroit with a three-year, $4.1-million contract. Baldwin has testified in the collusion hearings that the conspiracy cost Gibson another $3 million to $4 million.
He would now seem to have made up for that. In fact, considering that he made $2.7 million (including signing bonus) in his first two years under the most recent Detroit contract, the two free-agent forays will have netted him $7.2 million.
The Dodger negotiations--involving Baldwin in Seattle and Claire, club owner Peter O'Malley and club counsel Sam Fernandez in Los Angeles--were completed only after the two sides hammered out agreeable modifications in what are known as the conversion and lockout clauses.
The conversion clause gives a club the arbitrary right to void the guaranteed aspects of a contract if it believes the player is not in first-class physical condition because of the use of illegal drugs, alcohol or prescription medicine.
Gibson, it was learned, agreed to the conversion clause but only after the Dodgers agreed to a stipulation that would prevent them from voiding the guarantee without “probable cause” and a now-mandatory examination by a doctor agreeable to both sides.
The lockout clause is aimed at 1990, when the owners and Major League Players Assn. will be negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. It gives the owners the right to withhold player salaries if the clubs conduct a lockout in response to protracted negotiations.
In the modified version that will appear in Gibson’s contract, Gibson will be paid in the event of a lockout but won’t be paid if there is a strike by the players.
Also, if the players were to abort a strike as the National Football League players did, the Dodgers then could lock out Gibson without pay.
“The language represented a potential problem,” Claire said, alluding to the two clauses, “but both sides worked hard to get it resolved.”
Though restricted to 128 games by a rib injury that sidelined him for the first three weeks of the 1987 season, the often flamboyant Gibson still hit 24 homers and drove in 79 runs while batting .277. He has a career average of .276 and has averaged 27 homers, 88 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in the last four years.
While vulnerable because of a weak throwing arm, Gibson’s maneuverability is considerably better, for example, than Guerrero’s. Gibson also brings a competitive flair akin to the new Dodger shortstop, Alfredo Griffin.
“(Gibson’s) a bulldog,” Lasorda said. “We’ve not only done a lot to change the personnel this winter, we’ve done a lot to strengthen the character.”
Gibson is the Dodgers’ sixth significant addition of the winter, after Davis, Griffin, Don Sutton, Jay Howell and Jesse Orosco.
He also follows Sutton and Davis as the third free agent to be signed by a team that had avoided free agency since the lamentable signings of Dave Goltz and Don Stanhouse in the winter of 1980.
“This is another indication that Peter (O'Malley) is doing everything he can to bring the fans a good club again,” Lasorda said.
There might even have been two more free agents if the Dodgers had been successful in their pursuits of Gary Gaetti and Dave Righetti, but then Gibson’s second free agency might have gone unrewarded. There are only so many millions.