Steve Sax's bargaining position with the Dodgers seemed to improve Thursday when Tom Herr, a free-agent second baseman, agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Phillies. Herr had been considered a possible alternative if the Dodgers failed to sign Sax.
The Dodgers, in fact, had reportedly offered Herr a 2-year contract at $900,000 a year with an option on a third year at another $900,000.
Herr, who earned $875,000 while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Twins in 1988, agreed to a 2-year contract with the Phillies for $825,000 a year.
Agent Steve Comte said Herr, who lives in Lancaster, Pa., about 60 miles from Philadelphia, elected to take less than the Dodgers were offering because of his desire to live at home.
"That was the central and sole criterion," Comte said. "The Dodgers made a great proposal, but Tom is a very family-oriented person. Money wasn't the issue."
Comte also denied a report that the Dodgers' offer was conditional and could have been withdrawn if the club signed Sax.
"It was a sincere offer," he said. "From my understanding, there was nothing conditional about it."
Herr's acquisition will allow the Phillies to move second baseman Juan Samuel to center field, the first of several possible changes in the Philadelphia infield.
Phillie General Manager Lee Thomas said he has made a 3-year, $3-million offer to free-agent shortstop Scott Fletcher of the Texas Rangers and may still be interested in Sax, whose signing would allow Herr to move to third base, if Mike Schmidt does not return.
Schmidt, also a free agent, is recovering from rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder. The contract proposal he received from the Phillies calls for $300,000 guaranteed and the chance to earn $1.9 million, depending on awards and the number of games he plays.
The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly offered Schmidt a $1-million guarantee, and it was learned Thursday that the Dodgers have had preliminary talks with Schmidt's attorney, Arthur Rosenberg.
Schmidt, of course, could play first base and would seem to fit the Dodgers' most pressing need: a right-handed power hitter, assuming that at 39 he retains any power.
The Dodgers are also known to be investigating the availability of the Cleveland Indians' Joe Carter and are again talking with the Baltimore Orioles regarding first baseman Eddie Murray. The Orioles, according to a source, initiated the talks at the recent general managers meeting in Palm Springs. Nothing is expected to happen until the winter meetings next month, if then.
At the moment, the attempt to re-sign Sax is the club's No. 1 priority, Executive Vice President Fred Claire said.