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Mortgage payment was Royal pain

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Royals are expecting plenty from closer Roberto Hernandez and shortstop prospect Angel Berroa, the key players in the three-way deal with the Rays and A's in which they gave up star outfielder Johnny Damon.

But they already are reaping a benefit -- they don't have to make their $1,000 monthly mortgage payment on Damon's house.

"Now, we can take that money and go after a big-time free agent, right?" cracked team vice president of finance Dale Rohr.

Since 1997, the Royals have been paying for Damon to live in a 4,400-square-foot house in Overland Park, Kan., a tony suburb where homes list in the $350,000-$400,000 range.

Hoping to entice their young players to live year-round in Kansas City and make some appearances for the team, the Royals made an interesting offer: The team would make the down payment on a house and cover the mortgage, but the player would have his name on the title and keep the equity.

While pitchers Glendon Rusch and Jaime Bluma declined, Damon, Jermaine Dye and Mike Sweeney took advantage of a pretty good deal. Good enough that the Royals never offered it again. And good enough that each one stayed in their house despite considerable raises. Damon, who was making $240,000 at the time, earned $4-million last season. Sweeney just signed a two-year deal for $13-million. Dye will make close to $4-million next season.

"The plan was designed for players who weren't making much at the time," Rohr said. "It was an opportunity for them to have a nice home at a young age."

And you wonder why some teams have financial problems?

RAYS REPORT: While settlements are possible, and in some cases likely, arbitration hearings have been scheduled for Esteban Yan (Wednesday in Phoenix), Albie Lopez (Thursday) and Bryan Rekar (Feb. 20). Jose Guillen doesn't have a date yet. . . . Fred McGriff's annual celebrity golf tournament is Monday at the Old Memorial course in Tampa. . . . Vinny Castilla is playing for Mexico in the Caribbean Series. . . . Frank Howard will be an instructor during spring training.

WOW, THEY REALLY MISS DUBYA: Legislators in the great state of Texas last week honored Austin native Don Baylor for his charitable contributions and impressive athletic career. Baylor, (who played 19 seasons before managing the Rockies and Cubs, listened as his career accomplishments were dutifully retold in the Texas State Senate chamber.

Finally, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) grabbed the microphone and, with considerable gusto, bellowed: "Mr. President, my fellow senators, as an old country boy who grew up in the country out in Bastrop, Texas, and loved baseball, it's an honor and privilege for me to present to this esteemed body, Don Baylor, coach of the Chicago Bears!"

NEON WARNING: Cincinnati general manager Jim Bowden still is hopeful of getting Deion Sanders into camp despite some procedural issues raised by the commissioner's office. But not all in the Reds family think it is such a good idea. "All I have to say about this is that the guy can't play," outspoken broadcaster Marty Brennaman said on the air. "He gets signed because Jim Bowden is the president of the Deion Sanders Fan Club."

CAN A-ROD DO IT?: For all they have done and all they have spent, the Rangers go into spring training dangerously thin behind superstar catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who is recovering from a thumb injury. The only other catcher on their 40-man roster is career backup Bill Haselman, who is slowly recovering from rotator-cuff surgery and may not be ready opening day. After that, they have Mike Hubbard, a fringe journeyman, and Dave Steed, who was the all-star third baseman in the independent Atlantic League last season. Their top catching prospect, Scott Heard, was in high school at this time last year.

PARTY ON: Life has been good for Jason Giambi, who got to play with his brother, led his team to the playoffs and was AL MVP. Now he wants a championship ring. "That's next," Giambi said. "I've got to catch up to Derek Jeter. He's got toe rings now."

DIAMOND DUST: Steve Trachsel collected $4-million in incentive bonuses during his 8-15, 4.80 ERA season, reportedly the most in the majors. The Rays paid about two-thirds, Toronto the rest. . . . Ex-Ray Aaron Ledesma will be in camp with Dodgers as a non-roster invitee. . . . Fan interest for Brewers' Miller Park opener is so strong, the team set aside 3,000 tickets to sell to the public via lottery. More than 100,000 entries came in. . . . A relocation of home plate at Camden Yards will make the field 7 feet longer. . . . While Sammy Sosa's on-and-off plans to attend the Cubs Convention are a major public issue, there has been little concern that Frank Thomas is skipping SoxFest. . . . Veteran infielder Carlos Baerga, in camp briefly with the Rays last season, signed with Seattle. ... Right-hander Cory Lidle avoided going to salary arbitration with the Athletics by agreeing to a $600,000, one-year contract. Lidle, acquired in the aforementioned three-team trade from Tampa Bay last month, was 4-6 with a 5.03 ERA in 31 games for the Devil Rays in 2000. The agreement eliminated the need for an arbitration hearing scheduled for Monday.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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