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Padre Notebook : Santiago Meets With McKeon to Go Over Contract Questions

Times Staff Writer

After apparently reaching peace in his contract negotiations, catcher Benito Santiago, last season’s rookie of the year, suddenly took on the look of a troubled young man Tuesday. He was excused from the morning workout to have a contract meeting with Padre General Manager Jack McKeon.

Santiago met with McKeon for about an hour before returning to the clubhouse. He then dressed in time for a late batting practice.

“We had to discuss this. I don’t know what is going on,” said Santiago. “I’m still not sure what to say. I just want to get it worked out.”

Just a day earlier, Santiago said he would be satisfied with the Padres’ $140,000 offer. This was despite an original demand from agent Joe Menza of $200,000, a figure that has since been dropped to $180,000.

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“The Padre offer, that’s good money,” he said at the time. “I don’t have any choice, anyway. The Padres have everything on me. I will play hard and make the money back in two years in arbitration.”

But apparently it was a Monday night conversation between Menza and McKeon that sent Santiago into the general manager’s office.

“There were some things Menza said to Benito about that conversation that Benito didn’t understand. We had to clear some things up,” said McKeon. “It was a nice little conversation. We’ll probably talk again in the next day or two.”

Menza was not available for comment.

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Santiago has until March 4 to sign a deal, or the Padres, by a league rule, can sign it for him. They have said that, if forced, they would renew his contract at $140,000. Santiago will not have control over his salary until he has played three complete seasons.

A check of similar second-year salaries for star rookies shows the Padres about in the middle. The 1986 American League rookie of the year, Jose Canseco of Oakland, signed for $160,000, and runner-up Wally Joyner of the Angels signed for $120,000.

A check of the stats also shows Santiago somewhere in the middle. Canseco hit .240 but had 33 homers and 117 RBIs.

Joyner hit .290 with 22 homers and 100 RBIs.

With his 34-game hitting streak, Santiago hit .300, with 18 homers and 79 RBIs.

No sooner did new shortstop Dickie Thon arrive in camp Tuesday, than he made one thing clear.

“I do not want to talk about the eye,” he said politely. “I have talked about it at length but, I mean, that was three years ago. I can no longer think about that.”

Thon, who was signed as a free agent, is entering the fourth year of an attempted comeback from a beaning by the Mets’ Mike Torrez on April 8, 1984. The ball struck him over his left eye and caused severe vision impairment. Although the vision has returned, his hitting has not.

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A year after the accident, he hit just .251, and then .248 in 1986. Last spring he became so frustrated, he walked out of the Astro camp for two weeks. He returned during the season and played only 32 games before he walked out again July 3 and was put on the disqualified list for the remainder of the season. When he left the team, he was hitting .212.

After informing the Astros this winter of his intention to retire, Thon changed his mind, and last week he and the Padres agreed on a one-year, $100,000, nonguaranteed contract. He was signed to be a utility middle infielder, as he has played third base and second base before. He, Tim Flannery, Mike Brumley and Joey Cora will compete for two spots.

Tuesday he would not talk about the walkouts or any other specifics of the past.

“I have learned a lot since then,” said Thon, 29. “Time helps. In baseball you don’t have that much time to recuperate, and with no guarantees, you always have to play.

“Now that I’ve had that time, I’m ready. I’m in shape. I want to win the job. I’m not thinking about the minor leagues.”

To his advantage, the Padres are not asking him to repeat his all-star performance of 1983, when he hit .286 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs. Bowa talked with Thon shortly after his arrival and told him his main job would be to catch the ball.

“I told him not to worry about his batting average,” Bowa said. “If he can run, throw, catch the ball and lay down a bunt, he will be fine for us.”

Bowa was asked if this means Thon won’t have to prove he can hit 20 homers and knock in 79 runs again to make this team. “That’s a fair statement,” Bowa said.

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At least one Padre was happy with Thon’s prospects.

“I’m happy to see him,” Tony Gwynn said. “I remember what he could do. I saw him after the accident, and he wasn’t the same, but maybe he was rushed or forced to play when he wasn’t ready. With his fielding, whether he hits .310 or .210, he can help us.”

Padre Notes

Shortstop Garry Templeton arrived in camp after Tuesday’s workout bearing not-so-great news. He has a lump on his left inner-thigh that doctors think was caused by a flu infection. He will miss at least today’s first complete-team workout, and maybe more. “We’ll have to let him lay low and see what happens,” Manager Larry Bowa said. . . . Today’s first full-squad workout will formally begin at 9:30 a.m with the long-awaited two-mile run. Bowa demands only that his players finish it. “I don’t care if they walk, just finish it,” he said. Though there is no formal time restriction, Bowa has allotted 30 minutes for it. The Padres will repeat the run every day until the first spring game, March 4. . . . Later today, the pitchers will throw to the batters in live batting practice, unusual for a first-day exercise. “OK, so batting practice will drag a little bit, with the hitters complaining that the pitchers are way ahead of them, and with the pitchers having fun breaking their bats. Soon enough it will change. As soon as the hitters get their hands quick, they will catch up to the pitcher’s fastball. About that time, the pitchers will still be looking for their breaking ball. So the hitters will move ahead. Happens every spring.” . . . Before their official spring schedule begins, the Padres will play their minor leaguers in a charity game (Feb. 28) and one intrasquad game (March 2).


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