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Diamondbacks Sign Lee to $10-Million Contract

From Staff and Wire Reports

San Diego State first baseman Travis Lee on Friday agreed to a four-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a record $10 million, including a $5-million signing bonus.

Lee was the second player picked in the June draft, by Minnesota, but was later ruled a free agent by baseball’s executive council because the Twins failed to offer a written contract within the required 15 days.

Said acting Commissioner Bud Selig of Friday’s signing: “I have only two words: I’m stunned.”

Kevin Malone, assistant general manager of the Baltimore Orioles, had a few more, perhaps capturing industry reaction in the process.

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“I think it’s insanity to pay that to an unproven college player, though he’s one of the highest profile guys closest to being ready,” Malone said.

“It’s another sign that the game’s in trouble and another sign that the industry can’t control spending. Travis Lee is an outstanding prospect, but we didn’t offer a third of that. It’s shocking.”

Two other first-round selections--high school pitchers Matt White and John Patterson were made free agents with Lee in the same ruling. White had been picked by the San Francisco Giants, Patterson by the Montreal Expos. Another high school pitcher, Bobby Seay, picked by the Chicago White Sox, had earlier become a free agent on the same technicality.

“All of those guys are now going to be trying to top this,” Malone said. “I mean, what kind of reaction will there be among proven major league players?”

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Lee’s agent, Jeff Moorad, said he and his client were “blown away” by the Diamondbacks’ offer. He said 21 teams expressed interest in the Olympian and 14 made serious offers. The Angels and Dodgers were in the hunt, but the finalists were the Giants, Florida Marlins, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies before the Diamondbacks had Lee in for a visit Wednesday.

Moorad said that two teams came back and offered more than the Diamondbacks, but that by then Lee was sold on a team that will not begin playing until 1998 and has not been assigned to a league, although it will probably be the National.

Moorad said, “Travis saw the Diamondbacks as an organization that could build around him, one in which he could be playing in the majors by 1998 and in which his contract, hopefully, would not offend other players.”

The Diamondbacks’ only other players are those they drafted and signed this year and those signed as minor league free agents.

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Owner Jerry Colangelo, reached in Phoenix, said his club expects to sell 36,000 season tickets and has sold out luxury suites for the retractable-roof stadium now under construction. He expects $100 million in revenue in ’98.

“We expect to be one of the three or four top revenue producers in baseball in ’98,” he said. “We’re a player out of the gate if we choose to be. We’re in position to be very selective, and in this case we feel we have been.

“This is a [financial] reach, for sure, but we believe Travis is a special young man and talent. We have a pretty good idea about the type players we’ll be looking at in the expansion draft next November, and we’d prefer to build with good young players.”

Colangelo called the $10 million a calculated risk, but not insanity.

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“If we were projecting revenue of only $30 million and offered Travis Lee $10 million, that would be insanity,” he said.

Clemson pitcher Kris Benson, the first player selected in the June draft, received a $2-million signing bonus from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the previous record for a drafted amateur.

“I realize every club needs to do what it needs to do, but that’s totally out of line and hard to rationalize,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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