BASEBALL : High-Profile, High-Payroll A’s Wonder How High Is Up


If they sign free-agent third baseman Gary Gaetti, the Angels might close the talent gap in the American League West, but even that $11-million salary boost wouldn’t displace the Oakland Athletics as kings of the payroll.

With their player signings still incomplete, the A’s already are on the verge of a payroll record and a total befitting the Pentagon.

While the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants probably will exceed $30 million, the A’s should top $35 million, paying out, perhaps, more than some clubs take in--maybe even the A’s.


Can they make a profit with a payroll of $35 million?

“Extremely unlikely,” General Manager Sandy Alderson said.

And how does A’s owner Walter Haas of the Levi Strauss empire feel about that?

“He’s not happy, but for the time being he’s not prepared to dismantle the team,” Alderson said.

The A’s payroll is an example of the industry’s soaring salaries and a commitment by management to retain and maintain a championship team. Consider:

--If Mark McGwire wins his $3.3-million arbitration bid, the A’s salary guarantee to only 17 of the 25 players on their opening-day roster will be a record $28.350 million. If McGwire is awarded the A’s offer of $2 million, the guarantee will be $26.350 million, still a record.

--In either case, the A’s payroll is certain to exceed $35 million--a $1.4-million average based on 25 players--by the time the remainder of the roster is signed.

“We have a good team that’s proven it, but on the other hand we’re at an absolute limit,” Alderson said of a payroll that was $21 million last year. “I mean, even if performance remains commensurate with pay, it’s just not an acceptable situation.”


Eventually, Alderson said, the A’s will have to rebuild physically and financially, a process begun in some measure this winter when they opted for Eric Show at $1.1 million over Scott Sanderson at $2 million or more and Willie Wilson at $800,000 over Willie McGee at $3 million or more.

“We’re hoping for the same bang at less bucks,” Alderson said, adding that the system has to be overhauled because there are only so many revenue sources, only so many times that the price of tickets can be increased.

The A’s made an increase of about $1 per ticket this winter, which will produce about $2 million more in revenue, Alderson said. The payroll will increase by $14 million.

It’s a gold mine for the players, but Alderson wondered if even they can be happy with a system that doesn’t equate performance and pay, talent and salary. He reflected on the pace of escalation and said:

“A player may sign for $1 million today and wake up unhappy that he’s not making $2 million.”

Add escalation: Should their arbitration cases go to a hearing, Glenn Davis, Tom Brunansky, Mike Greenwell, Tom Candiotti, Jack Morris, Gary Gaetti, Ruben Sierra, Fernando Valenzuela, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek, Fred McGriff and McGwire will surpass Don Mattingly’s 1987 arbitration record of $1.975 million--even if they lose.

The owners’ spring training lockout of last year led to speculation that the clubs might adopt a shortened camp, finding they can prepare in three or four weeks.

Speculation is all it was.

“If anything, we found it couldn’t be done in that time; that for the pitchers particularly, five or six weeks are vital,” said Fred Claire, the Dodgers’ executive vice president. “I never heard anyone talk seriously about shortening it.”

The Dodgers, like most clubs, will open camp Feb. 22 for pitchers, catchers and 61 of their top farm prospects. They start the season April 9 at Atlanta, meaning that initial group will be in training 46 days.

Aside from pitchers and catchers, the other players cannot report until Feb. 27 and must report by March 6. Shortstop Alfredo Griffin and third baseman Jeff Hamilton, both recovering from surgery, have received waivers and will report with the pitchers and catchers.

Claire said he would not attempt to blame the arm and shoulder injuries suffered by pitchers Tim Belcher and Orel Hershiser last season on the three-week training period.

“There are injuries at the start of any season, but the fact is that no matter how the game changes, the preparation can’t be cut short because the pitchers need a certain recovery time after they’ve begun to get their arms in shape,” he said. “We also found that we were rushing decisions last year and didn’t have time to judge the young players in the context of exhibition games.

“I know there’s a perception that clubs like it (the traditional training time) only because it’s a pleasant time of year and we can use it to advertise the season, but I see a value to it that goes far beyond that.”

Len Dykstra went on radio talk shows to criticize the winter inactivity of Philadelphia Phillie General Manager Lee Thomas and urge that he sign free-agent second baseman Wally Backman, which Thomas did.

Backman, who made key contributions in a platoon role at third base as the Pittsburgh Pirates won the National League East title last year, may end up as the Phillies’ regular second baseman, because Manager Nick Levya privately has voiced doubt that touted rookie Mickey Morandini is ready. Backman will probably bat second behind Dykstra, who says of his former New York Met teammate: “We’re partners in grime.”

Bill Giles, president of the Phillies, has replaced Houston Astro owner John McMullen on the National League expansion committee, which should only strengthen the NL’s resolve to resist the American League’s potentially divisive demand to share in the $190-million expansion fees in return for supplying players to the 1993 pool.

Giles is adamantly against sharing the revenue, saying it is not negotiable, that there is no precedent or logic to it.

The NL committee, which is chaired by Douglas Danforth, Pittsburgh’s board chairman, and includes Fred Wilpon, president of the Mets, will visit each of the six cities still under consideration next month. The cities: Denver, Buffalo, Washington, Miami, Orlando and St. Petersburg-Tampa.

For the Record: In announcing recently that veteran second baseman Johnny Ray was being released from the remainder of his contract so he could accept an offer from the Yakult Swallows of Japan, the Angels said they had made no financial commitment to Ray.

Wrong. Ray’s contract with the Angels called for another $1.5 million in 1991 salary and 1992 buyout. As part of the release agreement, the Angels will pay $400,000 of his 1991 salary in Japan. The contract with the Swallows calls for a total 1991 salary of $2.050 million, $1.950 in 1992 and $1.6 million in the option year of 1993.

Ray, whose defensive range was questioned by the Angels and who no longer figured to start after the acquisition of Luis Sojo, can also make $400,000 a year in incentives, will receive a rent-free apartment, tuition for his children in a Japanese school and round-trip air tickets for five visits to the United States per year.


Player Salary Harold Baines $1,250,000 Jose Canseco $2,800,000 Dennis Eckersley $2,000,000 Dave Henderson $2,200,000 Rickey Henderson $3,000,000 Rick Honeycutt $1,200,000 Carney Lansford $1,150,000 Vance Law $500,000 Mark McGwire $3,300,000 * Mike Moore $1,400,000 Gene Nelson $850,000 Jamie Quirk $400,000 Eric Show $1,100,000 Terry Steinbach $1,000,000 Dave Stewart $2,500,000 Bob Welch $2,900,000 Willie Wilson $800,000 Total $28,350,000

* McGwire has filed for $3.3 million in arbitration compared to a $2-million offer by the A’s.

Above salaries do not include signing bonuses.