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ANALYSIS : SACRIFICIAL LAMBS : Angels' Joyner Among Those Getting Short-Changed

February 21, 1988|MIKE PENNER | Times Staff Writer

Since they first put a bat in his hands and his name on the roster in the spring of 1986, the Angels have spent a good deal of time making an example of Wally Joyner.

He has, over the past two years, been promoted as:

--Wally Joyner, first baseman of the future.

--Wally Joyner, symbol for Mike Port's bold new commitment to youth.

--Wally Joyner, Orange County's fresh-faced kid-next-door.

--Wally Joyner, cover boy for the Angels' 1988 advance-ticket sales brochure.

And now, during the midst of contract negotiating season, the Angels have done it again. In recent days, Joyner has been hoisted to the forefront of another movement, a breed of player paying heavily today for the shortsightedness of his elders.

Joyner and contemporaries Jose Canseco, Danny Tartabull and Pete Incaviglia are among those presently caught in a financial squeeze generated by the latest baseball Basic Agreement, otherwise known as the Great Player Sellout of '85.

Call it the plight of the two-year-plus major leaguer.

Before reaching the accord that ended the one-day baseball strike of 1985, the Major League Players Assn. made one significant concession to the owners--allowing the eligibility requirement for arbitration to be raised from two full years' major league service to three. Back then, it may have been considered an expendable bargaining chip, a way to preserve the current structure of the free-agent system. But, two years down the road, it has turned the game's bright young stars into sacrificial lambs, penalizing them for a three-year-old decision in which they had little or no say.

Under the provisions of the former agreement, Joyner and Co. would be headed for arbitration hearings this month. And for Joyner, who batted .285 with 34 home runs and 117 RBIs in his second big league season, such a hearing could have conceivably translated into a $1-million salary.

But now, in the aftermath of 1985, Joyner remains a full season short of qualifying for arbitration. And without the specter of arbitration, the so-called "two-plus" players approach the negotiating table at the mercy of the owners.

Hence, these recent developments:

--Joyner, seeking a one-year contract in the $600,000 range, receives an Angel offer of $281,000 on Feb. 8. Two weeks pass, Port and Joyner's agents talk and the Angels up the ante to around $330,000--still $100,000 shy of what Joyner is willing to compromise for.

--Will Clark of San Francisco, after batting .308 with 35 home runs in his second big-league season, reportedly agrees to a one-year contract worth $320,000.

--Canseco of the Oakland A's, who edged Joyner for 1986 American League Rookie of the Year and drove in 113 runs in 1987, signed Thursday for $325,000, plus incentives.

--Incaviglia of the Texas Rangers, after producing 57 home runs and 168 RBIs during his first two seasons, settles for a one-year contract worth $275,000--plus incentives that could bring his 1988 paycheck to $327,500.

--Tartabull of the Kansas City Royals, coming off a 34-home run, 101-RBI season, begins 1988 negotiations with a team offer of $225,000.

If you notice a trend developing, you're not alone. And if you're wondering how these numbers fit into the grand scheme, remember that in 1987 such journeymen as Danny Heep made $300,000, Ed Romero $415,000, Ruppert Jones $450,000, Rick Manning $475,000, Ron Hassey $492,258 and Butch Wynegar $733,333.

"The two-plus players have become the significant focus for where the owners are keeping salaries down," said Barry Axelrod, one of the two agents representing Joyner. "Until these players are eligible for arbitration, teams still have the right to pay them whatever they want."

Or, as Kansas City General Manager John Schuerholz was recently quoted saying: "You only have so much money allotted for salaries. If (veteran) players are getting more than they should because of free agent and arbitration rights, the younger players will get less."

Since the settlement of 1985, owners have driven this point home.

In 1986, the last year that two-year players were eligible for arbitration, the average salary for two-plus players was $309,604. In 1987, under the new rules, that figure had dropped to $191,703--a decline of 38.1% in a matter of 12 months.

Then, consider the individual cases of Toronto Blue Jay shortstop Tony Fernandez and Cleveland Indian first baseman-outfielder Joe Carter.

Fernandez, a .302 career hitter and generally acknowledged as the American League's premier shortstop, did not have arbitration rights until 1988. So, in both 1986 and 1987, after negotiations with the Blue Jays went nowhere, Fernandez had his contract automatically renewed by the club.

Last year, Fernandez was renewed for $400,000--playing the 1987 season for less money than shortstop counterparts Rafael Ramirez ($875,000), Craig Reynolds ($416,667), and Garry Templeton ($1,018,321).

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