Free Agent Refugees Watch and Wait
Undated (AP) _ Rich Gedman knew a time would come when, in the middle of April, he would not be playing baseball. ″I just didn’t think it would come this soon,″ he said. ″I figured I’d get old and retire.″
Instead, Gedman became a free agent and was retired - at least for the moment - by a deflated market that left a fistful of players unemployed or forced to take sizeable pay cuts to work.
So Gedman concentrates on his newborn son, grateful for the timing of his battle with baseball. And Ron Guidry rides a tractor in Carancro, La., unsure of whether he’ll ever get off that piece of farm machinery. Bob Horner prepares for a summer of playing baseball in Japan. And Bob Boone waits for May 1, the next deadline in the battle of nerves between management and players.
They are mired in a no-man’s land, free agents without teams, their roster spots already filled by other players. The group includes stars like Tim Raines, the defending National League batting champion, serviceable utilitymen like Danny Heep, future Hall of Famers like Tom Seaver and sluggers like Dave Kingman.
On May 1, free agents who are still unsigned may return to their former clubs, an option that has not been available to them since Jan. 8. Will they go back? Will the teams still want them? At what price?
″Nobody knows,″ said Reggie Ringuet, Guidry’s agent. ″May 1 is uncharted territory, a new era. Nobody knows what it holds.″
Ringuet still is amazed at what he found in the marketplace when he shopped Guidry over the winter. ″We did not get one offer. Not one,″ he said. ″Not even for the minimum salary. There were all kinds of excuses. The bottom line is we got no offers.″
That left Guidry and Ringuet with one option - Guidry’s old team, the New York Yankees. Pitching-poor New York said it remains interested in the left- hander who has been with the club since 1975. ″I don’t care if I go back or not,″ Guidry said. ″If it works out, I’ll go. If it doesn’t, I won’t.″
When they parted company, the Yankee offer was $825,000 a year for two years and Guidry was at $850,000. There is no word on what the team would offer on May 1, with one-sixth of the season over.
″Most likely, they’ll be around where they were and we’ll be around where we were,″ Ringuet said. ″If he was worth that in January, he’s worth that now. He won’t allow them to jam it down his throat. He can always stay on the tractor. He’s enjoying being home with his friends and family. He knows there is life after baseball.″
Gedman has learned firsthand about that life. Michael Richard Gedman was born seven weeks ago, at a time when his father would have been in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. The contract deadlock has allowed father and son to get acquainted.
″It couldn’t have come at a better time,″ Gedman said. ″It’s been a relaxed time, a time to be with my son. You don’t have that ordinarily.″
While just $25,000 separated Guidry and the Yankees, Gedman and the Red Sox are much further apart. ″They were at $2.65 million for three years and we were at $3.9 million,″ the catcher said. ″We were never close enough to find a bottom line. The thing became a stalemate.
″When you think about it, though, I’m in a no-lose situation from a baseball standpoint. Everybody needs a reason to do well. Mine will be to prove I’m worth what I asked for,″ he said.
″Those who haven’t signed said it was because they couldn’t get what they wanted. It will be tough for them if they have to sign for less now. I think both sides will realize there were mistakes made and work it out.″
Gedman was one of three quality catchers on the free agent market last winter. Boone still remains available. Lance Parrish turned down $1.2 million from his old team, the Detroit Tigers, and wound up accepting $1 million from Philadelphia. Even that figure could be reduced to $800,000 if his cranky back sidelines him again.
Meantime, he is struggling and being booed by fans, almost a scapegoat for the team’s poor start. And he is still bitter about the way free agency worked for him.
″I feel I deserved a little better treatment from the Tigers,″ he said. ″It was a very difficult thing to accept. I never thought I would leave Detroit. I thought my feet were implanted there. I’m disappointed in what happened there. It’s not only the baseball side. I had to face my wife and kids. They had to move to a new state, go to new schools. There’s so much involved. I’d hate to put anybody through that, let alone myself.″
While Parrish had a terrible start with his new team, third baseman Ray Knight is flourishing in Baltimore. The World Series MVP rejected $800,000 from the New York Mets and, after exploring a dried-up market, accepted half that amount from the Orioles. He seemed a bargain after the season’s first week, when he was leading the league in hitting.
Andre Dawson, another sale-priced player, signed for $675,000 with the Chicago Cubs, after inviting the club to name its own number. The salary was about half what Dawson earned in Montreal, but he took the offer because he was anxious to play day baseball on grass, an option available to him only with the Cubs.
Horner wasn’t interested in returning to Atlanta and accepted the $1.3 million offer from the Yakult Swallows, getting $600,000 more than he had been offered on the major league market, and $500,000 less than the Braves paid him last season. ″My opportunities in the United States were limited,″ Horner said. ″This was a new option.″
Boone was asked if he thought he would be returning to the California Angels on May 1. ″I’m not saying,″ he said. ″That’s a question to be answered May 1. It appears I don’t have a lot of options.″