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Now Piazza Is Even More Confused

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after the Dodgers were criticized by their franchise player for their negotiating tactics, catcher Mike Piazza on Wednesday was further angered by the actions of team officials, whose credibility he questioned.

Piazza said he was bothered by a statement the team released in response to comments he made in The Times on Wednesday, after the Dodgers’ season-opening game here, and that it’s becoming likely his career in Los Angeles will soon end. The day’s events widened the chasm between Piazza and the organization, and he said the gap is quickly growing too wide to bridge.

“I’m so disappointed, I’m so upset now, it’s hard for me to find the right words to really express how I feel,” he said. “Everything that they’re doing now, everything that they’re saying, I almost wouldn’t believe it except for the fact that it’s definitely happening.

“The Dodgers’ actions are making it clear to me that they really aren’t interested in having me here much longer. From what I’ve been hearing [on Wednesday], that is becoming painfully obvious.”

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In an unprecedented move, the Dodgers released a statement Wednesday to clarify their position about the stalled talks with Piazza’s agent, Dan Lozano, on a multiyear extension for the five-time all-star. After the Dodgers’ 6-0 loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday, Piazza said he was “confused and disappointed” by the lack of progress in negotiations, and for the first time publicly questioned the Dodgers’ commitment to him.

In the statement, team counsel Sam Fernandez, the Dodgers’ lead negotiator, said: “As we have said many times, Mike Piazza is a very important member of the Dodger team, and we will continue in our efforts to sign Mike to a contract that extends beyond the 1998 season. In keeping with those efforts, we have had several very candid and productive discussions with his agent, Dan Lozano, since the day that the sale of the club was approved.

“Unfortunately, to date, we have not been able to bridge the wide gap that exists between our respective positions, primarily because, at this point in the negotiations, there is no good way for either side to accurately assess the level of compensation that a player of Mike’s caliber can command in today’s market. However, we remain committed to signing Mike, and will continue to work toward that end.”

The statement confused Piazza even more.

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“If Sam can’t accurately assess what my worth to the organization is, then why is he handling the negotiations?” Piazza said. “They are just trying to avoid the issue, and they’re hoping the whole thing will go away quietly. It’s getting to the point where I just don’t know who I can believe around here.”

Piazza, the runner-up in voting for the most-valuable-player award the past two seasons, will make $8 million this season in the final year of two-year, $15-million contract. He is seeking a seven-year extension, believed to be for at least $100 million.

Team sources said Lozano will receive an offer from the Dodgers early next week. He declined comment on that but said he strongly disagreed with much of the language in the team’s statement.

“I wouldn’t characterize the negotiations as productive,” he said. “In fact, I almost feel as though the Dodgers are just going through the motions to make it appear as if they are actually committed to Mike. I’ve handled [multiyear] contract negotiations with the Dodgers previously, and they historically make the deals that they want to make.”

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The Dodgers resume play today against the Cardinals, and open a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds on Friday. Piazza said he is most discouraged by the distraction his situation has become.

“This is taking attention away from what I’m trying to accomplish, and what my teammates are trying to accomplish, out on the field,” he said. “It’s just a big disappointment to me.”


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