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Padres' Ownership Passes on Tartabull : Baseball: Werner decides that $20 million is too much to pay for the free-agent outfielder.

December 18, 1991|BOB NIGHTENGALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The meeting already was scheduled. It would be at 2 p.m. Thursday. It figured to be an encounter that could drastically alter the Padres' future.

Joe McIlvaine, Padre general manager, and Padre Chairman Tom Werner were planning to provide outfielder Danny Tartabull the most lucrative free-agent contract in Padre history.

In a matter of five hours Tuesday, not only did the meeting disintegrate, but perhaps the Padre season as well.

The Padres, after setting up a meeting at 10 Tuesday morning to notify Tartabull of their intentions, changed their mind by 3 p.m., and informed him they no longer were interested.

Sure, Tartabull might be the one player the Padres desperately need for their lineup, Manager Greg Riddoch said. Tartabull might be the only player available on the market who can help bring them a championship, McIlvaine is convinced. But when ownership refuses to make an offer, not even bothering to enter the bidding, there's not a whole lot McIlvaine or anyone else in the Padre organization can do.

"He's the type of player that can really help us," McIlvaine said, "but it's simply a matter of dollars and terms. Their persistence is on a five-year contract with money in excess of $4 million. When a contract starts with 20, that's when we're out of business. . . .

"We're trying to run a sensible organization. Maybe, we're a year ahead of our time."

The irony of the Padres' withdrawal is that they left the Tartabull sweepstakes without even determining the marketplace. Werner insisted last week that the Padres' budget could be flexible. Yet, when Werner returned Tuesday from Europe, apparently he and McIlvaine had different definitions of the word.

Although Tartabull's agent, Dennis Gilbert, informed the Padres that Tartabull indeed is seeking a five-year contract, the truth of the matter is Tartabull still does not have an offer. The Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and Angels all are expected to make offers this week, but who's to know if the Padres' proposal would have been good enough? They dropped out of the race before the gun sounded.

"I'm still having trouble believing what happened today," Tartabull said. "They called this morning, set up a meeting, and I was on cloud nine. Everyone knows I want to play there, and I'm thinking, 'Here we go, here we go.'

"Then I get a call saying they're not interested. It was like, 'What? I thought you just said. . . .' I was blown away. I just got disappointed, so disappointed. I got my hopes up for nothing.

"The way I look at it, I guess, is that this is a business. I have to move on. I know I'm going to help someone win a pennant, but I guess it won't be in San Diego.

"And I can't tell you how much that hurts."

The news of the Padres' withdrawal from the bidding for Tartabull quickly made the rounds of the players. They knew what it meant. This was a player who led the major leagues with a .593 slugging percentage, had more homers (149) and RBIs (521) the past six years than Bobby Bonilla or Wally Joyner, and the Padres still slammed the door on him.

"You've got to be kidding me," one Padre said upon hearing the news. "That makes me sick. Why did these guys even bother buying the team if they're not going to spend any money?"

Said another veteran: "You know, I thought if we got him, we had a good chance to win this thing. I really did. Now, it's going to be another lousy season.

"They (ownership) can say what they want, but everyone on our team knows we're going to be down there with the Houston Astros. What are we telling our fans, 'We could care less about winning?' "

Even Riddoch, the eternal optimist, had difficulty stomaching the news. After all, he's going to have be the man to find a way to win with only one bona fide power hitter in the lineup.

"It ruined my day," Riddoch said. "I wanted him not only knowing how talented he is, but knowing him the way I do. What makes it tough is that he wanted to be here so bad, and we wanted him too.

"We just can't compete with the Monty Halls of baseball."

Even worse for Padre fans, McIlvaine hinted this could be just the beginning of repercussions caused by financial restraints.

When asked if the absence of Tartabull at least prevents the necessity of trading players to cut the team's budget, McIlvaine said: "I may still have to."

That might mean that catcher Benito Santiago, who is expected to be awarded at least $3 million in arbitration this winter, will be the next to go. Even free-agent infielder Tim Teufel's modest salary demands appear to be exorbitant for the Padre budget.

The Padres, whose two-year contract offer to Teufel on Tuesday immediately was rejected, soon may be pressed to sign him at all. Teufel, who is being courted by four teams, likely will reject the Padres' offer of arbitration Thursday, leaving the Padres a Jan. 8 deadline to sign him.

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