Piazza’s Big Catch: 2 Years, $15 Million
The Dodgers, perhaps fearing an arbitration process with Mike Piazza could leave acrimonious feelings beyond repair, signed the all-star catcher Tuesday to a two-year, $15-million contract.
Piazza, who has hit more home runs and driven in more runs than any catcher in his first four seasons, will make $7 million this season and $8 million in 1998. He not only becomes the highest-paid player in Dodger history but will earn more than any catcher in baseball history.
“I’m elated, and really quite relieved,” Piazza said. “It’s a very generous contract, but I still want to go out and prove that I’m somewhat of a bargain. I think I’ve proved to them that I deserve to be in this class, and they’ve offered me the chance to continue to prove that.”
Piazza, who made $2.7 million last season, becomes the fifth-highest paid player in baseball. The only players who will earn more per season are Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, Roger Clemens of the Toronto Blue Jays and John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves.
“He’s one of the highest-paid players in the game,” said Fred Claire, Dodger executive vice president, “and that’s a status he deserves. That’s a status he earned.”
The Dodgers and Piazza were only $400,000 apart on a two-year deal last week, according to sources, but negotiations reached a stalemate Thursday. The two sides quit talks until Tuesday afternoon after Piazza requested a record $7.65-million arbitration award. The Dodgers countered at $6.1 million.
Dan Lozano, Piazza’s agent, telephoned the Dodgers after the arbitration figures were exchanged. The Dodgers asked again if Piazza was interested in a three-year deal for about $21 million. It was rejected. Piazza insisted on a two-year deal. But instead of the $14.4 million he requested last week, the ante was raised because of Texas Ranger catcher Ivan Rodriguez’s one-year, $6.65-million deal over the weekend.
The negotiations lasted less than an hour before an agreement was reached. The deal averts arbitration next year but will not necessarily prolong Piazza’s Dodger career. He still is eligible for free agency after the 1998 season.
“We’re very happy,” Lozano said. “The fact that we don’t give up any free-agent years and Mike is the highest-paid four-year player in history is very important.
“Mike will play two more years in L.A., and hopefully we’ll get together at some point with the new owners to play many more years as a Dodger.”
That the process never reached an arbitration hearing could have a bearing in future negotiations about a long-term contract. Piazza, whose request for a five- or six-year contract worth about $60 million was rejected, was becoming frustrated and occasionally angry during the negotiations on a two-year deal.
“You have to be professional about it,” Piazza said, “but I’m an emotional, fiery guy. I felt that if I had gone through arbitration, even if I won, I would have lost.”
Piazza, who was informed of the agreement while working out in a gym, immediately telephoned his parents in the Philadelphia area with the news. When he arrived at the news conference at Dodger Stadium, he embraced Dodger Vice President Tom Lasorda, who had the Dodgers draft Piazza in 1988 as a favor.
“I’ve come a long way,” said Piazza, a 62nd-round draft pick. “This is still hard for me to believe. It’s like a dream.”
The Dodgers’ payroll for the 19 players on their anticipated major league roster ballooned to $43.73 million with the signing of Piazza, the highest in franchise history. Yet, the Dodgers seemed relieved to put an end to the Piazza negotiations.
“This works out well for everybody,” Claire said.
The Dodgers, who have committed nearly $40 million in salaries since Peter O’Malley announced two weeks ago that the team was for sale, have retained the nucleus of their team through the 1998 season. They recently signed first baseman Eric Karros to a four-year, $20-million contract and pitcher Pedro Astacio to a one-year, $2.9-million contract. The only players eligible for free agency after this season are closer Todd Worrell and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti.
“We’re in a situation that’s good for us,” Claire said.
The Dodgers now will focus on outfielder Todd Hollandsworth, the 1996 rookie of the year. Claire telephoned Tracy Codd, Hollandsworth’s agent, Tuesday to inform him they were interested in exploring a multiyear deal. The Dodgers also may discuss a multiyear deal with pitcher Ismael Valdes.
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HIGHEST-PAID BASEBALL PLAYERS
Average annual salaries
ALBERT BELLE, White Sox: $11 million
KEN GRIFFEY JR., Mariners: $8.5 million
ROGER CLEMENS, Blue Jays: $8.25 million
JOHN SMOLTZ, Braves: $7.75 million
MIKE PIAZZA, Dodgers: $7.5 million
BARRY BONDS, Giants: $7.291 million
FRANK THOMAS, White Sox: $7.25 million
CECIL FIELDER, Yankees: $7.237 million
ALEX FERNANDEZ, Marlins: 7 million
Southland Pay Scale
A look at the top-paid athletes on Los Angeles-area professional teams. Figures are for the current or upcoming seasons:
Mike Piazza ($7,000,000)
Mark Langston ($4,500,000)
Shaquille O’Neal ($10,714,000)
Stanley Roberts ($3,250,000)
Rob Blake ($3,075,000)
Teemu Selanne ($2,850,000)
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