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Padres Bid Low for Hurst : Offer to Free Agent $300,000 Less Than Angels or Red Sox

Times Staff Writer

In a move he admitted was a gamble, Padre interim president Dick Freeman raised the eyebrows of the baseball world and perhaps Bruce Hurst Tuesday when he made a final offer for the Boston free-agent pitcher at $300,000 less than the highest two bids.

On a day the Padres thought Hurst eventually would announce his decision to join them, Freeman made a final, 3-year, $5.2-million offer, despite knowing that the Red Sox and Angels each had registered $5.5-million offers each. Hurst responded by suddenly withholding a decision, and instead agonizingly extended the wait until today, when Freeman said he “feels strongly he will know something.”

On an afternoon when one Padre question was answered--free-agent shortstop Garry Templeton signed a 1-year deal for about $550,000, as expected--there were suddenly many new ones.

Like, what in the world was Hurst going to do now? Because of the sudden $300,000 difference, will Hurst stay with the Red Sox, who wooed him with a 2-hour conversation Tuesday morning? Or will he join the Angels, whose owner Gene Autry made a personal plea to him shortly after Hurst got off the phone with the Red Sox?

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Or will he do what he has spent the last week intimating to friends that he would do, join the Padres?

Three times Tuesday, Hurst and agent Nick Lampros implied he would lean toward each of the teams.

Tuesday morning, before the Padres final offer: “This is getting out of hand,” Hurst said “I’m just going to take the best offer, that’s all. And the Angels have made me think.”

Tuesday mid-day:: “There is more to it than just money,” Hurst said. “The size of the offer is not the only thing. And any misunderstanding with the Red Sox has been cleared up.”

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Tuesday night: “Just because a team (the Padres) would offer less at this point doesn’t mean they want him less,” Lampros said. “When you are talking this kind of money, it’s obvious everybody has desire.”

By the time the Marriott Marquis lobby began clearing after midnight Tuesday, one more question arose, more compelling than all the others.

Why would the Padres make a low offer and dare leave any room for any questions? Why wouldn’t Freeman just throw in the extra $300,000 to match the other offers and leave nothing to chance?

Not only did Freeman make a low bid Tuesday, he only talked with Hurst for 5 minutes in a conversation he described as “businesslike.” He talked twice with Lampros about such things as a no-trade clause and incentive money would reach $450,000.

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“Where does it stop?” said Freeman of the money, who made the offer on his own after clearing it with owner Joan Kroc.

“At some point you have to make a judgment about where the top is,” Freeman said. “We’re trying to show some sort of reason here. We are basing this on what the market value is, not just what he will take.”

At least one other notable Padre was keeping the faith. Tony Gwynn, who was phoned by Hurst Monday morning and spent 10 minutes answering questions about the Padre organization, thinks the Padres will still win.

“I think he’s still coming, I think his agent just wanted to see how high the Padres would go,” Gwynn said. “After the Angels’ offer, they wanted to see how close the Padres would get, which you can’t blame them for. Although he didn’t say anything, I think he’s pretty much decided to come here.”

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Freeman is flying out of Atlanta at 5 p.m. today to visit his ailing mother in Iowa. He said he expects to hear something by then.

If Hurst’s answer is yes, another big Padre move immediately enters the picture. General Manager/Manager Jack McKeon began formal discussions with the Atlanta Braves Tuesday concerning the acquisition of slugger Dale Murphy, a move which could be directly aided by Hurst.

The two men, both Mormon, are close friends. Last summer in Boston, Hurst told reporters that if he remained with the Red Sox, he could help orchestrate a trade to buddy Murphy to join him. Many think Hurst could do the same thing for the Padres.

The Padres are waiting for the Braves to end their talks with the New York Mets, who have offered third baseman Howard Johnson and outfielder Len Dykstra and a pitcher. The Braves want that pitcher to be David West. The Mets are offering Rick Aguilera instead. The Braves also want second baseman Keith Miller, over the objections of the Mets.

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One problem is that Murphy has yet to approve a trade to New York. If the Padres obtain Hurst, sources say he would certainly approve a trade there, and could force the Braves’ hand.

If that Met deal dies, look for the Padres to offer the Braves outfielders John Kruk and Carmelo Martinez and pitcher Greg Harris for Murphy. McKeon also is still talking to Seattle about acquiring third baseman Jim Presley and either starter Mike Campbell or reliever Mike Schooler for catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.


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