Piazza Signs for a Record $91 Million


What is expected to be an expensive and explosive winter of free agent signings began Saturday when former Dodger catcher Mike Piazza reached agreement with the New York Mets on a seven-year, $91-million contract that is the largest in baseball history, sources said.

The Mets plan to announce the agreement Monday.

It supplants the six-year, $75-million contract that pitcher Pedro Martinez received from the Boston Red Sox last year as the biggest ever, in total and average annual value.

For Piazza, who will be 37 when this contract expires and who turned down a six-year, $79-million offer from the Dodgers before being traded to the Florida Marlins and, in turn, the Mets, the deal is suite, indeed.


In addition to the $91 million, which averages out to $13 million a year, sources said he will receive a luxury suite at Shea Stadium (or at a new park if one is built for the Mets) and a hotel suite when the team is on the road.

He will also receive a $500,000 relocation fee if he is traded before he becomes a “10 and five” player, meaning 10 years in the majors and five with the same club.

The package also includes a limited no-trade clause that gives Piazza the right to identify four clubs to which he would accept being traded. He has identified the Dodgers, Angels and Yankees. He can name the fourth at the time of the trade, if there is a trade.

According to sources, the financial details include:

* A $7.5-million signing bonus to be paid in two installments: $4 million in 1999 and $3.5 million in 2002. It is being paid in two installments as a hedge against the possibility of a players’ strike or management lockout in 2002, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires.

* Salaries of $6 million in 1999, $11 million in 2000, $12.5 million in 2001; $9.5 million in 2002, $14.5 million in 2003, $15 million in 2004 and $15 million in 2005.

Neither Piazza nor his agent, Dan Lozano, could be reached for comment, but the contract represents redemption for Lozano and Piazza, who were widely criticized for rejecting the $79-million Dodger offer in early May, ultimately prompting the parent Fox Group, which was concerned about the possibility of having nothing in return if Piazza left as a free agent at the end of the season, to include its most popular and productive player in a seven-player trade with the Marlins on May 15.

The Marlins traded Piazza to the Mets a week later. In 109 games with New York, Piazza batted .348 with 23 home runs and 76 runs batted in. His initial lack of productivity prompted boos at Shea Stadium, but he later became a driving force in the club’s failed bid for a playoff berth. Baseball sources said Piazza would have preferred to return to the West Coast, with either the Dodgers or Angels, but concluded that the Mets’ offer was too attractive to turn down and that he was unlikely to be offered a comparable package as a free agent.

The Mets made the offer, sources said, in an attempt to retain a marquee player and foreclose on Piazza’s free-agent eligibility.

A Dodger source expressed disappointment with Piazza’s decision to remain with the Mets, saying that the club had hoped to reacquire Piazza as a free agent, although that would have required trading Charles Johnson, the catcher they had acquired to replace Piazza.

Kevin Malone, the new Dodger general manager, would not address the possibility of Piazza’s reacquisition but expressed concern about the effect his signing will have on baseball’s salary structure.

“If this is true, it would definitely drive up the market,” he said. “It would show a continuing escalation in player salaries and . . . this concerns me from a fan standpoint because the fans will have to pay for this. At some point you have to question whether they will continue to pay.”

Piazza was paid $8 million this year in the second year of a $15-million contract he signed with the Dodgers. The average annual salary in the major leagues this year was $1.44 million, compared with $512,804 in 1989. Piazza now heads a list of seven players who have an average annual salary of more than $10 million. They include Martinez, $12.5 million; Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux, $11.5 million; San Francisco left fielder Barry Bonds, $11.45 million; Dodger outfielder Gary Sheffield, $11.416 million; Chicago White Sox left fielder Albert Belle, $11 million, and Chicago Cub right fielder Sammy Sosa, $10.625 million.

In contrast, the top NBA salary is Michael Jordan’s $33.14 million. The top NHL salary is Sergei Fedorov’s $14 million. In the NFL, Steve Young earns an average of $8.18 million over six years.

Piazza was also one of five eligible free agents considered among players capable of altering a club’s performance, shifting the balance of power and significantly affecting the salary structure. The other four are Boston first baseman Mo Vaughn, Yankee center fielder Bernie Williams, Houston pitcher Randy Johnson and San Diego pitcher Kevin Brown.

The Dodgers and Angels are believed to be interested in Vaughn, who is expected to demand a multiyear contract in the same neighborhood as Piazza’s $13-million average.