On Monday evening, Kansas City Royals general manager Herk Robinson made the stunning announcement that K.C. was placing outfielder Bo Jackson on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. Even after days of speculation about Jackson's health and future, few had foreseen such an extraordinary—and sad—turn of events. At his news conference, Robinson made it clear that the decision was both a medical and an economic one.
Jackson, that most celebrated of two-sport athletes, injured his left hip while playing for the Los Angeles Raiders in a Jan. 13 NFL playoff game. At first, it was thought that the injury wasn't serious, but according to Royals team physician Dr. Steve Joyce, Jackson has since suffered an alarming loss of cartilage in the hip joint. In his announcement, Robinson said that the latest physicians' reports were "certainly far more serious than we had hoped, for our sake and for Bo's." Jackson's own doctor, Dr. James Andrews, a Birmingham, Ala., orthopedic specialist, was slightly more optimistic, indicating the possibility that Jackson could return to baseball after the All-Star break.
By releasing Jackson on or before March 19, the Royals are obliged to pay him only one sixth of his $2.45 million salary for 1991. Said a source in the Kansas City organization, "This was a no-brainer. It was the only sound business decision to make based on the facts. Bo may not have a whole lot of baseball left—though we can't say he won't play again."
Whether he will ever play again—and at what level of skill—was what the 25 other major league teams quickly began to ponder. Assuming that Jackson clears waivers in the period ending Friday (if he were claimed, the new team would have to pick up his full contract), he can negotiate a new contract with any other club. Given his talents and his enormous drawing power, everyone in baseball began Monday to play the guessing game: Who would roll the dice? And at what price?
It's Only Money
It may be hard to believe, but not every free agent got rich this winter. Some who put up decent numbers last year are still home, waiting for the phone to ring.
"A lot of teams ran out of money," says Brewers general manager Harry Dalton, explaining why baseball's early winter spending spree fizzled out in January. "There's so much pressure to retain stars and to acquire the big-name free agents. You commit what you can, then you run out of room on your payroll."
The biggest losers were part-time players. Instead of paying $1 million for a veteran fourth outfielder or a backup infielder, many general managers decided to go with young players, whom they arc paying little more than the $100,000 major league minimum. Not all the victims were part-timers, however. Case in point: Candy Maldonado. As a regular outfielder-DH for the Indians last season, Maldonado was one of only five American League players who had at least 22 homers and 95 RBIs. Last season, Maldonado was seeking a three-year deal from the Indians reportedly worth at least $6 million. Even though Cleveland is woefully short of power, in December general manager Hank Peters offered him only a one-year, $1.4 million contract, plus an option for another year. Maldonado rejected the deal and started talking with other teams, but the best he could do was get an invitation to the Brewers' camp.
"Sure, we wanted him," says Peters, "but he wanted substantially more than we wanted to pay. He overestimated the level of interest. I asked other people in baseball why they didn't have much interest in him. They said they were afraid of giving him a multiyear deal."
Maldonado, 30, is still haunted by the two-year contract he signed with the Giants after the 1987 season, when he hit 20 home runs and drove in 85 runs. The next two years he averaged 10 homers and 54 RBIs. "That's just an excuse," says Maldonado, who will probably wind up with a one-year, $875,000 contract from Milwaukee after getting off to a strong start in spring games. "If the Indians can't pay, they're not going to bring a winner there. This isn't the movie Major League. You have to pay to win."
Another righthanded-batting outfielder who didn't draw much interest is Phil Bradley. A lifetime .286 hitter, Bradley batted .256 for the Orioles and White Sox in 1990. After getting no off-season offers, he signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.
Mickey Tettleton, 30, a switch-hitting catcher who had 41 homers over the last two years for the Orioles, hoped to get a contract similar to the three-year, $6.75 million deal that free-agent catcher Darren Daulton signed with the Phillies in November. "I thought the Daulton deal would help, but it hurt," says Tettleton. "It was as if people said, 'Daulton's overpaid; we can't pay you that much.' " Tettleton drew little interest as a free-agent and accepted an offer of arbitration from the Orioles. In January, Baltimore traded him to the Tigers, who signed him to a one-year, $1.6 million contract.
That $1.6 million looks pretty good to those free agents looking for work. Among them are Jeffrey Leonard, 35, who knocked in 75 runs as an outfielder-DH for the Mariners last year; Angels DH Brian Downing, 40, who batted .345 against lefties in 1990; and Reds infielder Ron Oester, 34, who hit .299 last year.
First Things First
It's hard to figure how some teams choose a leadoff man. The Blue Jays, for instance, have been trying centerfielder Devon White in the No. 1 spot despite his career on-base average of .295. Why not use second baseman Roberto Alomar, who hit .364 as a leadoff man for the Padres last year? The answer is that White told Toronto manager Cito Gaston that he is more comfortable batting leadoff. So Alomar is hitting second.
The Royals are using centerfielder Brian McRae at the top of the order, even though he picked up only nine walks in 168 at bats in 1990. The Giants are trying second baseman Robby Thompson, who has averaged 109 strikeouts over the last five years. And the Pirates have even experimented with centerfielder Andy Van Slyke, who has never batted first in his eight professional seasons.
Battle of the Bulge
How did Tiger first baseman Cecil Fielder spend the off-season? Certainly not at a Weight Watchers clinic. Fielder looks even heavier this spring than he did last season, when he tipped the scales at more than 240 pounds. And recent actions by Detroit manager Sparky Anderson indicate that he's not too happy about the situation.
The first hint came last Saturday when the Tigers moved their top prospect, first baseman Rico Brogna, from minor league camp to major league camp—an odd move considering that players usually go the other way at this time of year. As soon as Brogna arrived, Anderson started him at first base.
The second indication came on Sunday after Fielder, the DH, drew a leadoff walk in the second inning against the Rangers. Even though Fielder has never stolen a base in his five years in the majors, Anderson gave him the steal sign twice with a 3-2 count on Mickey Tettleton. After fouling off the first pitch, Tettleton struck out on the next one. Fielder got only halfway to second on his steal attempt, then turned back toward first and was tagged out. "I just wanted to let Cecil get his body moving," said Anderson.
Thus Spake Sparky
Fielder's weight isn't the only thing that worries Anderson. He's also concerned about Boston's frightening lineup, which now includes designated hitter Jack Clark. Playing in Fenway Park, Clark, who bats righty, is virtually assured of tying Bobby Bonds's mark of hitting 25 homers in a season for five different teams. "The Red Sox will be extremely hard to beat," says Anderson. "With all the money they spent [$70 million in the off-season], they better win, or someone will get killed."...Even before hearing that Brewers ace Teddy Higuera would be out indefinitely with a rotator-cuff injury, one American League East general manager said, "How could they give him a four-year contract?" For all his talent, Higuera, who signed a $13 million deal in December, has been hurt three years in a row. The Brewers' Dalton is at a loss to explain his team's staggering spate of injuries. Since 1988, Milwaukee players have spent a total of 2,393 days on the DL—60% more than the major league average.... Rookie Eddie Zosky could very well edge out veteran Manny Lee for Toronto's starting shortstop job. The Blue Jays love Zosky's enthusiasm on and off the field. As he knelt at the altar during his Feb. 2 wedding, those in attendance saw the word BLUE painted on the sole of his left shoe and JAYS on the right one. "My best man did it," says Zosky. "Well, it was better than GET ME OUT OF HERE."
When Jackson's hip failed to heal, K.C. gave him his walking papers.
The Tigers are nervous about the ever-expanding Fielder and may be hedging their bets in case he has trouble slimming down.