Contract negotiations between the Dodgers and the agent for all-star catcher Mike Piazza stalled Friday, casting doubt over Piazza's future with the team, sources told The Times.
For the first time, Dodger officials Friday acknowledged that they have had discussions with Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano. Team counsel Sam Fernandez initiated contact with Lozano earlier in the week about opening negotiations on a multiyear contract extension, which Piazza has sought since October.
However, the sides are apparently far apart, and they were not scheduled to speak again.
"We have spoken with Dan, and we will continue to have discussions in the hopes of signing Mike," Fernandez said. "But we're not going to comment about the particulars, or how things are perceived right now. We're speaking, and that's all we're going to say."
The Dodgers wanted to have a deal completed before the season opener Tuesday in St. Louis. They had hoped to reach an agreement in time to announce it today or Sunday at Dodger Stadium during the Freeway Series against the Angels.
But their optimism evaporated Friday night, after Fernandez and Lozano, in Las Vegas on business, spoke by phone.
Piazza will make $8 million this season in the final year of a two-year, $15-million contract. He is seeking a seven-year extension, believed to be for at least $14 million annually.
Lozano previously said he would not negotiate with the Dodgers after the team failed to meet Piazza's self-imposed Feb. 15 deadline to reach an agreement.
Lozano also declined to discuss what occurred Friday, but clarified his position on negotiating with the team.
"We were very comfortable with our position, and nothing would have changed if Sam had not called me," Lozano said. "But considering the Dodgers' efforts, and because of the change in ownership, we felt we owed it to [the Fox Group] and the fans to see how much the Dodgers really want to keep Mike here.
"But Mike is focusing on the season now, and all he wants is to have a great season for the Dodgers and the fans of Los Angeles. We've been up-front about our intentions from the start."
Bob Graziano, team president and chief executive officer, had downplayed the Dodgers' urgency to meet with Lozano, because Piazza is under contract. Graziano said the completion of the sale to the Fox Group on March 19 would not spur activity.
However, sources said that Fox Group and Dodger officials were only waiting for the sale to be completed before pursuing Piazza, who hit .362 with 40 home runs and 124 runs batted in last season. Many believed a deal had been reached before to the sale, or that one would be completed by now.
"The objective has been to sign Mike Piazza," said Fred Claire, executive vice president. "And that hasn't changed."
Angels at Dodgers
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Update--Ken Hill, who starts for the Angels, was given the contract of a No. 1 starter and has pitched like one this spring. He has given up seven earned runs and 22 hits in 27 innings. Dodger starter Hideo Nomo, meanwhile, has been roughed up all spring. He has an 8.25 ERA and has walked nine batters in 12 innings.