In just a few weeks, the Dodgers are expected to begin negotiations with representatives of Fernando Valenzuela, presumably on a multiyear contract that would keep the left-handed pitcher from becoming a free agent after the 1986 season, when he is eligible to become one.
Valenzuela is being paid $1.2 million in 1985, a figure agreed upon just hours before the deadline for filing for arbitration. Valenzuela had filed for arbitration once before, in 1983, when he became the first major league player to be awarded $1 million in a hearing.
What would it cost to keep Valenzuela a Dodger beyond 1986? Team officials have yet to sit down with Valenzuela's agent, Tony DeMarco, and his attorney, Dick Moss, but a source familiar with previous negotiations said that $2 million a year is a conservative estimate.
"I feel that we're in a very beautiful position," DeMarco said. "We're blessed."
The highest-paid Dodger, Pedro Guerrero, signed a five-year, $7-million contract in February, 1984, that will pay him $1.7 million in 1988, the final year of the agreement. Three big-league players--first baseman Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies, outfielder Jim Rice of the Boston Red Sox and shortstop Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals--each have contracts paying them more than $2 million a year. A fourth, first baseman Eddie Murray of the Baltimore Orioles, is expected to sign a five-year, $13-million contract this winter.
Fred Claire, the Dodgers' executive vice president, said that negotiations with Valenzuela are of vital importance to the club. "We have some time. It requires, most importantly, a tremendous amount of thought, in terms of handling it in the very best way, from our standpoint and that of Fernando and those representing him," he said.
"We want to do it well and without disruption, which will require a tremendous amount of discussion on how it is approached and handled." There have been no formal discussions yet, Claire said. "We've not had a chance yet to formulate our plans. Obviously, our concentration is where it needs to be at this time."
Valenzuela, who at 16-9 is on schedule to become a 20-game winner for the first time in his career, would appear to be in an optimum bargaining position with the Dodgers.
"Nothing has been said, but it's mutually understood that it probably would be a good idea to talk about Fernando," DeMarco said. "We'd be willing to talk at any time. But if nothing happens, we're also happy. We're very confident about Fernando and Fernando's future."
If previous negotiations are any criteria the Dodgers will be asked to come up with top dollar. After Valenzuela's celebrated holdout in 1982, he became the highest-paid second-year player in history. He signed for $350,000 after having made $42,500 in '81.
DeMarco allowed as much when he said: "To me, Fernando's the greatest, he's No. 1. I know in my heart how great he is, and I know how much he is worth. He's worth a lot, and he deserves a lot."
The phenomenon that in 1981 was known as Fernandomania, when Valenzuela was the most celebrated player in baseball, has passed in some degree. But his popularity in Los Angeles still registers every time he pitches. Of Valenzuela's 14 starts in Dodger Stadium this season, 12 have been sellouts. The average paid attendance when he has pitched has been 45,952, compared to the overall average of 40,944--more than 5,000 more fans a game.
"If they (the Dodgers) have any sense, they'll try and sign him this winter," one agent said. "If Fernando were to go another year, he'd have a lot of alternatives, not only as a player but in other places with Latin communities where he'd be a big draw, too. Places like New York, Chicago, Houston and San Diego."
Valenzuela's attorney, Moss, said the pitcher "would like to stay here, there's no question about that. Hopefully, we'll be able to work something out."
One measure of Valenzuela's value to the Dodgers, Moss said, can be found not only in his record or at the box office but also in his durability.
"The thing that impresses me most is that in the last five years, he's the only pitcher in the major leagues who never missed a start," Moss said. "That boggles the mind."
DeMarco said that "things are very good" between him and the Dodgers.
"But when business comes around, my first duty is to Fernando," he added. "And (the Dodgers) have to defend their money."
SALARIES OF DODGER PITCHERS
SIGNING BONUS: $400,000
1985: $900,000 1986: $900,000 1987: $950,000 1988: $1 million or $400,000 buyout
SIGNING BONUS: $150,000
1985: $675,00 1986: $725,00 1987: $775,00 1988: $825,00
SIGNING BONUS: $175,000
1985: $600,00 1986: $700,00
1985: $212,00 1981: $5,000 over minimum 1982: $350,000 1983: $1 million 1984: $1.1 million 1985: $1.2 million