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Sunday, December 15, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Huge Contracts For Amateur Free Agents Likely To Force Changes In Draft

Baltimore Sun

The massive contracts given to amateur free agents Matt White ($10.2 million), Travis Lee ($10 million) and John Patterson ($6 million) not only destroyed the salary structure in the draft, but also probably will lead to the end of the draft as we know it.

Next year, a player drafted early in the first round will be offered typical draft money - say, around $1 million - and his family will file a lawsuit, contending the major-league draft prevents him getting fair-market value.

The player (call him John Dough) will use the White, Lee and Patterson contracts as compelling examples of what is possible when amateurs can negotiate with all teams.

"What did we see in an open market?" agent Scott Boras asked, rhetorically. "We saw the value of players escalate five- and six-fold."

The draft will have to change, and Boras has some suggestions. Reduce the number of rounds, for one.

Give teams one year to sign drafted players, and then after that, allow the players to be free agents (right now, players are thrown back into the draft). Allow teams to trade picks, as they do in football and basketball.

"That way," Boras said, "teams that can't afford a No. 1 pick will get something back, and be compensated for having one of the worst records, rather than just lose the rights to the player.

"There's no question baseball needs a draft. . . . It just needs alterations."

An American League general manager said he told his brethren at recent meetings that the Lee and White signings would dramatically affect the future of the draft, and many other executives laughed at him. "But it's a big deal," said the GM. "It's going to have a huge impact."

Canseco to Oakland?

The Boston Red Sox are probably going to deal Jose Canseco to the Oakland Athletics as soon as Boston is satisfied with the financial settlement - Oakland wants Boston to pay $2 million of Canseco's salary.

Butler may retire

Brett Butler signed a contract for 1997, but he's still not sure if he'll actually play again for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Butler weighs 152 pounds, or 8 pounds less than his playing weight before he had a cancerous tonsil and lymph node removed. "I'll know sometime before spring training," Butler said. "But if you ask me now, I'm probably leaning toward (retirement)."

Fielder unhappy

Cecil Fielder couldn't wait to get out of Detroit, to play with a contender. Now that he's with a world champion, he wants to leave. Fielder, fearful of being relegated to part-time duty with the New York Yankees just before he becomes a free agent, has demanded a trade.

If the Yankees don't grant his demand by March 15, he'll become a free agent, but frankly, New York would probably be thrilled if Fielder walked, ridding them of their $7.2 million obligation. Fielder is still angry about being benched in the first game of the playoffs.

"I'm not going to forget that," he said. "I like New York, but I don't like the situation all the time. I'm not comfortable with all the lineup changes and controversy."

The postseason controversy in New York came as a result of the Yankee players refusing to give former replacement players Dave Pavlas, Dale Polley and Matt Howard a dime of the playoff shares (a full share was worth $241,000). "It takes some of the shine off everything," said Yankee Manager Joe Torre. "It's taken a little bit of the fun away."

The Yankees think they can trade Charlie Hayes to the San Francisco Giants, clearing the way for them to pursue free-agent third baseman Tim Naehring, roundly coveted by opposing executives for his leadership and hard-nosed play.

Reinsdorf created problem

The great irony in the demise of the draft is that the entire problem was created by the spite of Jerry Reinsdorf. The White Sox owner reportedly ordered his scouting staff to draft high-school pitcher Bobby Seay to show Boras, Seay's agent, that he couldn't dictate signing bonuses.

Reinsdorf's intention was to make an outrageously low offer and force Seay to go back into the draft. But Boras found a loophole, through which Seay ($3 million), Lee and White passed through to get outright free agency. In the end, Reinsdorf's spiteful anger will cost the other teams millions and millions of dollars.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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