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Piazza Talks Are Over for Season

Unable to reach an agreement on a multiyear contract extension, the Dodgers and all-star catcher Mike Piazza on Wednesday said they have ended negotiations until after the season--when the team’s franchise player will be eligible for free agency.

The outcome has been expected since negotiations stalled between Dan Lozano, Piazza’s agent, and team counsel Sam Fernandez, the Dodgers’ lead negotiator more than a week ago.

Fernandez and Lozano have stopped commenting on the contentious negotiations, which Piazza said have caused him to question the credibility of team officials, and prompted unprecedented actions by the Dodgers. However, team sources said Lozano and Fernandez spoke again Wednesday but moved no closer on the extension Piazza has sought since October.

“From everyone’s standpoint, we felt this was best,” said Fred Claire, executive vice president. “From Mike’s standpoint, from our standpoint, from the fans’ standpoint, it’s not an issue you want to continue to raise. It makes sense to put it to rest.”

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The team has made Piazza two offers, the last about $80 million over six years. Piazza is seeking a seven-year deal for at least $100 million, and the Dodgers are unwilling to commit to that length or value.

In a statement released by the Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents Piazza, the five-time all-star said, “I have instructed my agent, Dan Lozano, to shut down contract negotiations with the Dodgers.

“I let the talks become a distraction, and for that I apologize to my teammates and our fans. For the rest of this season, I will focus completely on bringing a championship to Los Angeles, and will not discuss my contract status with anyone until the season ends.”

Piazza reaffirmed his position while meeting with reporters before Wednesday night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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“I’ve said what I’ve said, and I’m done commenting on this,” he said. “It’s time to move on and play baseball. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, and I’m just tired of the whole thing.”

Piazza was booed each time his name was announced in Tuesday’s home opener, and again Wednesday night, presumably because of the fans’ anger about his negotiations. And after going 0 for 4, Piazza, who began the season with a .334 career average, is batting .172 (five for 29).

He has questioned the team’s commitment to him, and has been critical of Bob Graziano, the new president and chief executive, and Fernandez’s handling of the situation in particular.

In an unprecedented move, Fernandez released a statement updating the status of the negotiations, in which he said it was difficult to assess Piazza’s worth. That further angered Piazza, who was the runner-up in voting for the most-valuable-player award the past two seasons.

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Piazza will file for free agency, sources said. Assuming he remains sound and productive, Piazza would be the biggest prize of the free-agent class.

Under major league rules, players may file the day after the World Series ends, but they cannot negotiate with other teams for 15 days. Claire said that period will be crucial for the Dodgers to persuade their star player to remain in Los Angeles.

“I look at that as an opportunity,” he said. “It may or may not be, but that’s the way I look at it. My opinion is subjective, but I don’t think there is anything that we can’t do, or anything we can’t accomplish.”

TONIGHT

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DODGERS’ ISMAEL VALDES (0-1, 4.76 ERA) vs. DIAMONDBACKS’ JEFF SUPPAN (0-1, 8.44 ERA)

Dodger Stadium, 7

TV--Channel 5. Radio--AM 1150, KWKW (1330)

* Update--Valdes struggled with his control in his first start against the Cincinnati Reds, walking four. He gave up three runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss. “I thought I pitched OK for my first game, but I know I have to work on my control,” Valdes said. “That is what I need to do early in the season, but I’m not worried about it.” Valdes needs three strikeouts to reach 500 in his career. Suppan gave up five runs on eight hits in his season debut Friday--an 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

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