SAN DIEGO — Unless the Padres offer at least a four-year, $15-million contract to Benito Santiago in the next six weeks, the All-Star catcher will cease negotiations until he becomes a free agent after the 1992 season, his agent, Scott Boras, said Friday.
"It's not a threat, just a promise," Boras said. "Sign Benito now, or we're going to file for free agency. I'm not saying we won't sign with the Padres once he becomes a free agent, it's just that everyone else will have the same chance, too.
"We had a long talk about this the other day, and Benito expressed those sentiments to me. He looked at me and said, 'The Giants did it for Will Clark, and I think the Padres should do the same for me.' "
The San Francisco Giants signed Clark a year ago to a four-year, $15-million contract--that included a $2 million signing bonus--when Clark was two years shy of free agency. Now, Santiago expects to receive a contract similar to, or more lucrative than, the one given to Clark, an All-Star first baseman.
"If they just sign me to a one-year contract this year," Santiago recently told The Times, "that's the last chance they'll get. I'll make them wait until I'm a free agent.
"I've got the numbers. Look what I've done in my four years. Every year I'm going to do better and, when my free agency comes, oh man."
Santiago, 25, is one of six Padre players eligible to file today for salary arbitration for a 1991 contract. Also eligible are first baseman Fred McGriff (who earned $1.45 million in 1990), infielder Bip Roberts ($195,000), outfielder Darrin Jackson ($145,000) and pitchers Calvin Schiraldi ($600,000) and Wes Gardner ($500,000).
Players have 10 days during which to file, and each side then submits a salary figure that will be disclosed Jan. 18. If the sides still are unable to reach an agreement, an arbitrator will select either the player's or the club's salary figure in hearings Feb. 1-21 in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
In arbitration a year ago, Santiago was awarded a $1.25 million salary for 1990 after the Padres offered $750,000. Although he won his case, Santiago and Boras have informed Padre officials that they don't want to return for another hearing.
"It's time for a good-faith effort by the Padres," Boras said. "He (Santiago) understood it a year ago, but if it happens again, well, let's just say he won't view it favorably.
"There's a way to be fair, and a way not to be, and I know what happened last year bothered Benny."
Santiago, despite missing 52 games with a fractured left forearm in 1990, still was selected to the All-Star team and was recipient of the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards. He batted .270 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs.
"You're talking about a premium player," Boras said, "and the contract (four years, $15 million) we're talking about is standard for premium players."
The Padres have yet to initiate contract discussions with Boras and Santiago, but Boras said he and Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, will meet this week.
McIlvaine, who is scheduled to arrive Sunday in San Diego and move into his new home, is expected to be quite busy with contract talks. McGriff, who hit 35 homers and drove in 88 runs for the Toronto Blue Jays last season, could become the highest-paid Padre player. And Roberts, who batted .309 last season, is expected to receive the largest percentage increase among Padre players.
"I've got some good numbers, some big numbers," McGriff said. "If they want to play hard ball, that's their right, but if they don't offer me a multi-year contract offer now, and I go out and hit 40 homers, they're going to be paying a lot more later."
Roberts, who is expected to receive at least $1 million this season, will be compared to Dodger leadoff hitter Brett Butler in their negotiations. Roberts, a three-year veteran, batted .309, scored 104 runs and stole 46 bases last season as the Padres' leadoff hitter. Butler, an eight-year veteran, also batted .309, scored 108 runs and stole 51 bases. The Dodgers gave Butler a four-year contract worth $10 million.
"Bip is a walking insurance policy who can lead off," said Boras, who also represents Roberts. "Players can be devastated offensively by their versatility, but Bip played five different positions last season, and still was able to sustain his status of being in the upper echelon of offensive categories."