Just when you thought the Padres would have to sweat it, Thursday was just another day at Camp Bored Stiff, where the first bit of spring controversy beat a hasty retreat toward common sense.
The Padres only agreed to terms with one of their three remaining unsigned players--Sandy Alomar Jr.--but did not automatically renew the contracts of Benito Santiago and Roberto Alomar, as planned if they not reach agreement.
Instead, after a pleasant 3-hour discussion between acting general manager Tal Smith and Scott Boras, agent for both players, a decision will be delayed until today, when Boras said, "There is a chance for a successful result."
Either way, there will be a result. Smith promised that after today's noon meeting involving Boras, Smith and interim president Dick Freeman, the contracts will either be signed or renewed. But where on Wednesday an ugly renewal appeared likely for both players, Boras felt that Thursday's discussions represented a breakthrough.
"It was a very eventful day," Boras said late Thursday. "Tal Smith is a very knowledgeable guy, I was able to sit down and talk to him and we were able to share arguments. It was almost like being in an arbitration hearing. We reached an understanding."
Said Smith: "We addressed the situation in a cordial, congenial atmosphere and we had no serious disagreements."
According to the collective bargaining agreement between players and management, a club may arbitrarily decide a contract figure until a player has three full years of big-league service, at which point a player can take a club to arbitration. Both Santiago and Alomar have less than three full years, which means they must play for whatever the Padres decide.
Although renewal is an increasingly common tool, many clubs attempt to avoid it to protect sensitive players. Probably the most sensitive of the three players, catcher Alomar Jr., agreed Thursday to a major-minor league split contract that will pay him $77,000 if he makes the big leagues and around $35,000 in the minors. The big league figure is $10,000 more than the major league minimum, which for a rookie should be considered a victory.
But entering Thursday's meeting, it appeared there was no avoiding renewal for catcher Santiago and second baseman Alomar, which could get both impressionable youngsters off on the wrong foot. Santiago was asking for around $350,000 and the Padres were offering closer to $275,000. Alomar was asking for $150,000 and the Padres were offering closer to $120,000.
But with the presence of Smith, a baseball consultant who just took over as interim general manager last week, it appears common sense has taken over. Boras, a former minor leaguer who realizes that his players cannot fight what they cannot change, may have lowered his demands and softened his stance.
"Tal is obviously competent, diligent, prepared, and with good viewpoints," Boras said. "I understood his analysis and I think he accepted mine. Now we'll let Dick Freeman come in here carrying the final hammer and see what happens."
Freeman, speaking from his San Diego home, said he was proud of Smith, who may have hit a homer in his first pinch-hit appearance: "I take what Scott Boras said as a compliment, because that's exactly why Tal was brought in."
If things fall through today and the players are renewed? Although both players have been repeating that it doesn't matter, that they will wait to gain revenge in arbitration, two players who renewed last season claimed it did matter.
"I didn't hang it in my locker, but I did bring it out once in a while," said reliever Dave Leiper, who was renewed at $75,000 after seeking $100,000. "It was kind of like, OK, some day I'm going to get them."
Pitcher Mark Grant, who was renewed at $90,000 after seeking $120,000, said, "If I had to do it again, I would do it differently. I was upset. I regretted it."
Manager Jack McKeon held a 20-minute meeting before Thursday's workout to review his spring teachings and impart his philosophy on the exhibition schedule, which begins today here against the Angels at 1 p.m. and ends 29 games later on April 1 in Las Vegas against the Padres' triple-A squad. Basically, McKeon told them he wants to win, but won't become Larry Bowa's evil twin if they don't. "Just as long as they do the little things right, the mental things, showing what they've learned . . . that's all I care," McKeon said. "Nobody goes out there to lose, but I'm not going to switch pitchers because a guy gives up a couple of runs, I'm not going to pinch-hit in obvious situations. I want everybody to get their game in shape and do what needs to be done for them to be ready in April. And I don't want them afraid to screw up. If they screw up, I'd just as soon they do it now than in the regular season." . . . Tony Gwynn bought the speech except for one part. "That part about winning is bull, and Jack knows it," Gwynn said. "Jack is a winner, and he really cares about winning. He's saying that mainly to take the pressure off us. But I think winning does matter. To build our foundation, to learn to do things that will help us later, we need to win now." Gwynn, a three-time batting champion, said he's excited to get started. "I got tired of playing my teammates, I want a shot at somebody else," Gwynn said. "Now is the time for me to refine my game, to get everything going." The Padres have had a winning record just once in the last five springs--16-14 in 1986. In 1984, the year they advanced to the World Series, they went 13-17, the most spring games they lost during that five-year period. However, last year's world champion Dodgers went 21-11 in the spring while the 1987 champion Minnesota Twins went 14-10 that year. . . . Gates will open for today's 1 p.m. game with the Angels at 9:30 a.m., 90 minutes earlier than usual, because the 10 a.m. 'B' game will be played on the main field. In the past, the 'B' games were played on one of the practice fields. But much larger crowds are expected for all games this spring, particularly in today's 'B' game with one-armed pitcher Jim Abbott making his pro debut for the Angels. The Padres' 'B' game team will include Carmelo Martinez at third base and Sandy Alomar Jr. catching, with Greg Booker as the only major league pitcher scheduled. In the 'A' game, the starting batting order will be Roberto Alomar (second base), Randy Ready (third base), Tony Gwynn (center field), Jack Clark (first base), Benito Santiago (catcher), Shawn Abner (right field), Jerald Clark (left field), Mike Brumley (shortstop) and Bruce Hurst (pitcher). Also scheduled to pitch was Dave Leiper and Mark Davis, with Mark Grant and Pat Clements as backups. . . . If you don't have a ticket for Saturday's second game in this three-game series with the Angels, get there early. Only 900 grandstand seats remain for the 1:05 p.m. game.