New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was supposed to become baseball's highest-paid player this week by agreeing to a record-setting seven-year, $118.5 million contract. But while details of that deal apparently remain unresolved, the Detroit Tigers made outfielder Juan Gonzalez an even bigger offer of about $140 million over seven years.
Gonzalez hasn't agreed to the deal but was scheduled to be in Detroit yesterday for what the Tigers hoped would be a final negotiating session. His trip from Puerto Rico was delayed, but the Tigers still are hopeful he will arrive in the next few days.
"We're still hoping he can get in some time this weekend," Tigers General Manager Randy Smith said. "We have had ongoing negotiations for some time. The talks have been very private and anything I say would probably be detrimental."
The Los Angeles Dodgers were widely criticized just more than a year ago for making free agent pitcher Kevin Brown the game's first $100 million player when he signed a seven-year contract worth about $105 million.
Now, two more $100 million deals appear close, and $100 million might become the measuring stick next fall when one of the most dazzling classes of free agents in history goes on the market. That class includes Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Mike Mussina, who each could command at least $100 million.
Some industry sources speculate that one of the reasons the Jeter deal hasn't been completed is that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner doesn't want to be the owner to break Brown's $105 million record. If that indeed is the reason Jeter hasn't signed, Steinbrenner might only have to wait a couple of days.
Unlike Jeter, who has helped lead the Yankees to three world championships and established himself as one of the game's consummate professionals both on and off the field, Gonzalez, 30, never has played in a World Series, but he did lead the Texas Rangers to three division championships in four seasons.
However, his work ethic and commitment occasionally were questioned by some of his former managers and teammates. No one can question his productivity. He's a two-time American League most valuable player and, over the last four seasons, has averaged 43 home runs and 140 RBI.
The Tigers gambled that they could sign him last fall when they acquired him from the Rangers in a nine-player deal. The Rangers made the deal because they were uncertain of Gonzalez's contract demands when he became a free agent after the 2000 season.
"We just weren't prepared to go into next season with that over our heads," Rangers General Manager Doug Melvin said.
Smith called Gonzalez "a future Hall of Famer," adding: "This guy is one of the best players in the game. His consistency is phenomenal. He's always been productive. We think this is a good offer for a great player. When you have a player of this caliber--on his way to Cooperstown--he's going to be expensive. But we think he's worth it, especially if he stays consistent."