Mike Port succeeded Buzzie Bavasi as general manager of the Angels Sept. 1, 1984. Port discussed several issues, including free agency and his methods of negotiating with free agents, in a recent interview. Here are some of his responses to questions asked by Dean Hill of The Times' special sections department.
Question: Near the end of last season, a colleague of yours in the front office of another team gave you credit for helping the Angels have such a successful year in that you would not negotiate during the season with eight players whose contracts were running out. How do you feel about that?
Answer: We did not want this to be a distraction, which it can be. And I think our intention right now would be not to negotiate during the course of the season.
I know suggestions have been made that it might be helpful to begin negotiations earlier so that you don't run into problems coming down to the wire, when you get to Dec. 7 or Jan. 8. But no matter how early you start, you're just stretching out the same number of discussions, and it will probably still come down to a matter of either Dec. 7 or Jan. 8.
The Angels will still sign multiyear contracts when we feel appropriate, and still institute certain elements of guarantee. But I think we will try our best to do so when it is not harmful or distracting to the effort on the field.
Our approach over the recent past has been "Let's take first things first." We just wanted to have everyone pull the wagon across the finish line before we started on the next race. Not at all an original idea. If anything, a traditional idea from back in the era when baseball had nothing but one-year contracts. And what anybody got for the succeeding season depended on what they had done during the previous season.
Q: Have you been surprised by the inability of Tim Raines and people like that to sign with other clubs?
A: Not really, because they have had offers. The offers have just not been as high as they might like. But after roughly 10 years of free agency, at least on the part of the California club, there has been a virtual trail of disasters; a lot of dollars spent and some fellows still being paid who are no longer in baseball.
I think it's understandable that after 10 years some people are going to see the market adjust. Our club has not been active to any great extent in the free-agent market since about three years ago when we signed Ruppert Jones, who was a non-ranking player at the time, and the year before that when we signed Frank LaCorte. So we had those two years where we involved one individual. But ever since then, we like to think that the path that we have adopted has resulted in improved performances on the field, having come closer to the World Series last year than we ever have before.
Q: Hasn't free agency been costly to clubs in terms of losing draft picks who have turned out to be good players for other teams?
A: Absolutely. It costs you, depending on the ranking player, in terms of draft choices; in terms of roster flexibility, because when you sign an individual to a multiyear guaranteed contract for a lot of money, you may go down the drain and out to sea with that individual trying to bear out your investment, which may stymie the progress of a young player.
You don't have that flexibility of saying, "OK, you're not doing the job so you go down to Edmonton and we'll bring the young player in."
There are motivational questions, though, that will be disputed by obvious sources. We have studies showing that performance will drop after X number of years of a multiyear contract. I think that's only human nature at work.
You used to be able to go out and sign a player to a multiyear guaranteed contract at a high rate of pay and turn around and go to an insurance carrier and insure that for disability or whatever. But now, with 10 years or so of experience, we've had some downside occurrences in that respect--pitchers with bad arms and so forth and some claims have been paid--you find that coverage is not as easy to acquire. Just so many, many things that I think it comes down to the realization that there are many problems connected with free agency.
Q: Isn't a prime example of free agency Wally Joyner, because you used a compensation pick for Don Baylor signing with the Yankees and drafted Joyner? If that hadn't been the case, Joyner might be playing with another team now.
A: Exactly. I think that free agency is a great thing to write about during the off-season, and it takes a bit of restraint to keep from jumping in there and saying that we were successful in being able to acquire this guy and a making big splash. But getting back to practicality, you have to be concerned with performance and try to make the best blend for your club.