On the day Mo Vaughn became a free agent, Albert Belle shook up the market when the Chicago White Sox refused his demand for a $4.25 million raise over three years, making him eligible to sign with any team.
Belle's sudden freedom overshadowed Friday the 44 players who filed for free agency, a group that included San Diego third baseman Ken Caminiti, the first player to file from one of the World Series teams.
Also filing were Boston first baseman Vaughn, Baltimore first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, Chicago Cubs outfielder Henry Rodriguez, White Sox third baseman Robin Ventura and Arizona outfielder Devon White.
Belle's contract, a $55 million, five-year deal signed after the 1996 season, contains a unique clause that says within three days following the World Series he may demand that the White Sox keep him among the top three highest-paid players in baseball.
When Gary Sheffield received $7.5 million to accept a trade from Florida to Los Angeles last May, Belle dropped into a tie for fourth under the definition in his contract, tied with the Chicago Cubs' Sammy Sosa at $10 million and behind Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez ($12,083,333), Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux ($11.5 million) and Sheffield ($11,416,667).
After agent Arn Tellemade the demand, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had the choice to raise Belle's salary by $1,416,667 per season or allow him to become eligible for free agency.
"Albert enjoyed a tremendous second half and a season that ranks among the best offensive years in franchise history, but we are not going to allow anything to disrupt the on-field direction Jerry Manuel has established for this team," general manager Ron Schueler said, referring to the team's manager.
"No one part of this team is larger than the whole -- the Yankees proved that in this World Series. However, we respect Albert's right to invoke the clause and we welcome him back if he chooses."
While Belle has established himself as one of the top offensive threats in the game, his violent outbursts have caused some teams to shy away from him. Belle hit .328 this season with 49 home runs and 48 doubles, leading the AL in slugging percentage (.655) and total bases (399).
"I've said all along I was happy I'm in Chicago and I would like to stay in Chicago," Belle said. "I consider this a starting point. There's nothing to get all bent out of shape about.
"I'm going to leave it up to Arn Tellem and Jerry Reinsdorf to work out a deal. There are ways to work out things where both sides are happy."
Kansas City third baseman Dean Palmer filed for free agency but still might wind up with the Royals. His contract has an unusual provision that allows him to file for free agency, then decide whether to exercise a $4.75 million player option.
Philadelphia third baseman Alex Arias, who had been eligible for free agency, agreed to a $1.1 million, two-year contract that pays him $550,000 in each of the next two seasons.
Arizona exercised a $850,000 option on right-hander Gregg Olson, who had been eligible for free agency, and a $1.8 million option on pitcher Brian Anderson, who had been eligible for salary arbitration.
Also, Atlanta agreed to a one-year contract with outfielder Gerald Williams and Texas agreed to a minor-league contract with Milt Cuyler.
Fifty-two players filed for free agency in the first two days. Up to 96 more are eligible to file, a group that includes New York Yankees outfielder Berie Williams, Houston pitcher Randy Johnson, Padres pitcher Kevin Brown and World Series MVP Scott Brosius of the Yankees.
Vaughn, who has repeatedly feuded with Red Sox management, is expected to leave Boston. The Red Sox say they want to keep him, but Vaughn has said their offers have been far below market value.
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