LOS ANGELES -- Mike Piazza might be the next baseball player -- after Pedro Martinez -- to sign a huge contract. He hopes to do so with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but is prepared to go elsewhere if it doesn't happen.
"Absolutely, I love playing here," Piazza said Wednesday when asked if he wants to stay in Los Angeles. "The fans have adopted me. I'm generally optimistic. But as a ballplayer, you have to be prepared for anything.
"I'm an independent person. After this (1998) season, I'm a free agent. If I'm not signed, I can't sell myself short by not exploring free agency."
When asked about the six-year, $75 million contract former teammate Martinez signed with the Boston Red Sox recently, Piazza smiled and said, "He's a tremendous pitcher, he really is."
Piazza, 29, has proven he's a tremendous hitter -- one of baseball's best. He has a career batting average of .334, and has averaged nearly 34 homers and more than 104 RBIs in his five full big-league seasons.
Coming off one of the best offensive years by a catcher in history -- a .362 average with 40 homers and 120 RBIs -- Piazza has one year remaining on the two-year, $15 million contract he signed last winter.
Piazza's agent, Dan Lozano of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, said in late October that if his client didn't sign a contract extension by Feb. 15, he would become a free agent at season's end.
Lozano reiterated that position Wednesday, and said he didn't want to start serious negotiations with the Dodgers until the sale of the team to Rupert Murdoch is approved.
A vote will be taken by baseball owners next month.
When asked how much his client is worth, Lozano said, "That's for the Dodgers to decide. I guess the market will determine that. If the sale goes through in January, then yes, we would like to try and work something out prior to Feb. 15.
"Mike staying in Los Angeles is entirely up to the Dodgers, it really is."
Piazza wouldn't say how much money he wanted, and indicated he might take less to play for the Dodgers.
"We know basically what we're asking," he said. "We don't have a set number right now. Obviously, the market's set. That's all you can say right now.
"I'm sure there are things we can compromise on. I'm not going to dispute that (money) is not important."
Reached in Hawaii, Dodgers general manager Fred Claire said he is available for negotiations any time Lozano and Piazza would like.
"Mike has certainly established himself as one of the great players," Claire said. "I hope Mike is always a Dodger."
Claire wouldn't be specific in terms of dollars, either, but did admit, "There has been a tremendous escalation, there's no way to deny that. Ultimately, each club has to make its own decisions as far as what it does. I want to hear what it is they're thinking about, and go from there. Hopefully, we can come to a successful conclusion."
Piazza spoke before distributing toys at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
"I come by every couple months," he said. "You don't have to be a major league player to come by. The kids are really cool. It's good for them. You just come in, a lot of these kids just want you to come in and say hi."
Piazza said some of the children don't know who he is.
"Some of them do, and some of them don't," Piazza said. "I don't think that's important."
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