Davis a Free Agent : Late Filing Rocks Padres as Ace Makes His Pitch : To market: The team's top relief pitcher will market his services to the highest bidder in baseball's free agent auction.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Reliever Mark Davis, who curiously has watched the Padres' slow and leisurely negotiating process with him the past month, formally issued an invitation to every major-league team to join in Monday night by filing for free agency.

The Padres were not notified Monday of Davis' instant free-agent status, but Alan Hendricks, Davis' agent, said, "the news will become official today."

The Major League Players Assn. announced Monday that 18 players filed for free agency on the first eligible date, including Padre outfielder Carmelo Martinez, but Davis was not among the group.

The reason Davis' filing remained secretive, Hendricks said, simply was because he did not notify the Major League Players Assn. until after their office closed Monday night. The Players Assn. personnel will find Hendricks' telex, he said, when they report to work this morning.

Once the Players Assn. receives Hendricks' notification, they are required to contact the Player Relations Committee, which in turn will inform the Padres of Davis' decision.

Under the Basic Agreement guidelines, Davis and Hendricks are restricted to negotiating only with the Padres until the 15-day free-agent filing period expires Nov. 13. However, Hendricks is allowed to telephone clubs and offer Davis' services without discussing monetary terms.

"You can be assured we'll be talking to all of the clubs out there," Hendricks said. "You can talk about anything you want except for cash. What we want to find out is what interest there is out there."

Considering that the Padres have gone as long as a week without negotiating with Hendricks since the end of the season, is Hendricks upset at their tactics?

"Why should I be?" Hendricks said, chuckling. "He's the one coming off the 44-save season."

Davis indeed is bargaining from a position of strength. He won the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year award, and his 44 saves were the third-highest total in major-league history. In fact, the only National League pitcher ever to record more saves in a season was Bruce Sutter in 1984 when had 45 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Davis, who turned 29 two weeks ago, also was selected as the Padres' Player of the Year. He was successful in 26 of his last 27 save opportunities, and allowed just one of his last 29 inherited runners to score. He's expected to vie for the Cy Young Award with Mike Scott of the Houston Astros.

"There's no question we wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as we did without him," Padre Manager Jack McKeon said, "and as a manager, I wouldn't want to be without him.

"You've got to remember, he had a great year (28 saves) the year before, too. So it's not like he's just a one-year phenom. He's been very consistent for us. And this year, well, he was the best."

Now, Davis just wants his pay to match his performance. He's seeking a three-year contract for $7.0 million to $7.2 million, according to sources, which would make him the highest-paid reliever in baseball.

"If he wants to test the market, there's really nothing we can do about it, it's his prerogative," McKeon said. "We'd sure like to keep him, but now, we'll just have to take our chances along with everyone else."

The Padres' ordeal, of course, could have been eliminated seven months ago when Hendricks approached Padre President Dick Freeman about a two-year contract extension. Davis, who had just completed the first year of a two-year, $1.12 contract, was seeking a two-year extension for $2.3 million in spring training. The Padres turned it down.

Oops.

This time, Padre owner Joan Kroc has assigned her personal attorney, Beth Benes, and lawyer Fred Lane of Chicago to negotiate Davis' contract. Neither Freeman nor Tony Siegle, Padre vice president, player personnel, are involved. And McKeon, who negotiated Davis' last contract for the Padres, since has moved from the front-office to become the field manager.

"Our No. 1 priority remains re-signing Mark Davis," said Kroc, who put the team up for sale at the end of the season. "We want to do that before we even start thinking about free-agent signings."

Kroc, according to sources, has provided permission for the Padre front-office to pursue free-agent pitcher Mark Langston in the off-season. Langston filed for free agency Monday, and has included the Padres among his top choices to play for next season.

"We can't negotiate yet," Siegle said, "but I'm sure we'll be hearing soon from his agent."

While Davis' free-agent filing might have caught the Padres off-guard, they not only expected Martinez to file, but told him to do so.

Martinez, 29, who has played the past six seasons for the Padres, lost his starting left-field job in mid-June, and spent most of the remainder of the season on the bench. He wound up hitting .221 with six homers and 39 RBIs, the worst offensive season of his major-league career.

"We told him to go out and see what's available on the free-agent market," Siegle said. "We said, 'Maybe there's an opportunity for you to play more for someone else.' "

Said McKeon: "He's really the type of guy who needs to go out and test the market. We're not closing the door to him, but if he wants to play regularly, it won't be here."

The only other Padre player who was eligible to file for free agency this year was third baseman Tim Flannery, but he retired Sept. 29, two days before the end of the season.

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