Pushing player salaries to yet another level, the Dodgers on Saturday made Kevin Brown baseball’s first $100-million player, signing the free agent pitcher to a record seven-year, $105-million contract that stirred concern and anger throughout the industry.
Brown’s package surpassed the previous records for total value and average annual salary established in the last few months during this dizzying season of free agent signings. The four-time all-star, who turns 34 in March, is to receive a $5-million signing bonus and a $10-million salary in 1999, and salaries of $15 million annually for the remainder of the contract, which was completed during baseball’s annual winter meetings here.
The Dodgers included a no-trade clause and agreed to charter a jet to fly Brown’s wife and children from the family’s home in Macon, Ga., to Los Angeles 12 times a season. Brown, who will be introduced at a Dodger Stadium news conference Tuesday, said the club overwhelmed him.
“From the first moment we [Brown and his wife, Candace] visited with the Dodgers in Los Angeles [Wednesday], we knew that they were not only committed to us but committed to winning,” Brown said during a phone interview. “Everyone we met made it clear to us that getting the Dodgers back to the level they were at in the past was the priority.
“The money you can make is obviously important, but the competitive edge, the chance to win year in and year out, has always been the most important thing to me in the game. The Dodgers also were very committed to doing some things to help me be with my family, and all of that combined made the decision a lot easier.”
Brown’s deal surpassed the total value of the seven-year, $91-million contract former Dodger franchise player Mike Piazza signed with the New York Mets in October. It also pushes the Dodgers’ payroll next year to $85 million, tops in baseball.
The Dodgers traded Piazza on May 15 after they refused to meet his request for a seven-year extension in the $100-million range. Piazza rejected the team’s final offer of six years at $79 million.
The Brown deal also surpasses the $13.33-million average annual value of the contract Mo Vaughn signed with the Angels in November.
News of Brown’s contract was not well received by baseball officials. The Dodgers were roundly criticized for being the first club to break the $100-million barrier, for giving a pitcher a guaranteed seven-year contract, uncommon because of the risk of arm problems, and for increasing the talent disparity between the game’s low- and high-revenue teams.
Teams are enjoying unprecedented financial success created by revenue streams from new stadiums throughout the American and National leagues, lucrative new cable TV contracts, and the growing influence of corporate ownership, such as Dodger parent company News Corp. However, baseball leaders have urged franchises to act fiscally responsible, and the Brown signing is not under that umbrella, many officials said.
When asked for comment, Bud Selig, major league baseball commissioner, said: “There is no appropriate comment I can make.”
Others were less reserved. Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of major league baseball operations, especially took exception to a section in a Dodger news release attributed to Dodger General Manager Kevin Malone that read: “The Dodgers do not take payroll disparity and economic responsibility lightly.”
“The commissioner [Selig] is certainly frustrated,” Alderson said. “We held a meeting last week in Chicago that wasn’t even attended by these people [the Dodgers] who made this deal today.
“The comments [news release] you have in your hands is an affront and an insult to the commissioner of baseball.”
Many general managers said the Dodgers acted irresponsibly, suggesting that they at least could have stopped at the $14-million plateau, which they zoomed past.
“I think this is dangerous for the competitive balance of the game,” said Jim Bowden of the Cincinnati Reds. “The fact that Kevin Brown will make more in the next seven years than our whole team in the next four is not good.”
The Dodgers were unfazed by the negative reaction, saying that they didn’t create this mess.
“Our competitors established this market--not us,” Malone said. “No one said anything when the Mets signed Piazza or the Angels signed Vaughn. We’re getting criticized because we were the most recent ones.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re just falling in line with what our competitors have done. But anyone who implies that we don’t care about financial responsibility doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
The Dodgers outbid the Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, Brown’s former team, for the right-hander, who will be 40 in the final year of his contract.
The Dodgers acquired the pitcher who helped lead the Florida Marlins to the 1997 World Series title, and propelled the Padres to the 1998 World Series. Brown, whose fastball has been clocked at 97 mph, was the most coveted starting pitcher in this free agent class because of his talent and competitive drive.
Brown finished third in the National League Cy Young award balloting last season, going 18-7 with a 2.38 earned-run average and 257 strikeouts in 257 innings. In 10 full seasons, Brown has a 139-99 record with a 3.30 ERA and 1,480 strikeouts while pitching for Texas, Baltimore, Florida and San Diego.
Moreover, Brown and Atlanta’s Greg Maddux are the only pitchers in baseball history who have not been on the disabled list because of arm problems while pitching at least 1,400 innings.
“Kevin Brown is the type of pitcher who can help make all of the young pitchers on our staff better just by his presence, his dedication and the way he approaches the game,” Dodger Manager Davey Johnson said. “He’s going to make it so much easier for guys like Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort because they’re going to gain so much from him. They all can feed off of that, and I don’t know how you put a price on everything that he brings in addition to the talent he has.”
Brown now heads a list of 10 players who have an average annual salary of more than $10 million. The others are Vaughn, $13.33 million; Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson, $13.1 million; Piazza, $13 million; Baltimore outfielder Albert Belle, $13 million; Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez, $12.5 million; Maddux, $11.5 million; San Francisco outfielder Barry Bonds, $11.45 million; Dodger outfielder Gary Sheffield, $11.42 million, and Chicago Cub outfielder Sammy Sosa, $10.63 million.
Malone, who brokered the deal with Brown’s agent, Scott Boras, said the move reaffirms the Dodgers’ commitment to reestablishing themselves among the game’s premier organizations.
“This is a very exciting day in the history of the Dodgers,” Malone said. “Signing a player like Kevin Brown, someone with his ability and someone with his character and determination, helps to uplift the other pitchers on your staff, the rest of the players on your team and the whole organization.”
* THINK KIRK GIBSON: If ’99 is 1988 all over again, then signing Kevin Brown was money well spent, Bill Plaschke writes. D1
* WHAT THE OTHER TEAMS SAY: Despite a backlash from other teams, Dodger officials say there is no buyers’ remorse. D1
* WHAT BROWN SAYS: The new Dodger pitcher says he was swayed by the team’s concerns for his family and its commitment to winning. D1