Originally created 03/09/99

Hoffman becomes highest-paid reliever



PEORIA, Ariz. -- San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman became baseball's highest-paid reliever Monday when he agreed to a $32 million, four-year contract extension through 2003, the Associated Press learned.

The deal, which also is the largest in club history, followed an offseason of change for the Padres. They lost several marquee players after the New York Yankees swept them in the World Series, some because they couldn't afford them, and others in order to get younger and faster.

The Padres now have the two relievers with the highest average annual salaries in baseball. Randy Myers is owed $6 million this year in the middle year of an $18 million, three-year deal he signed in November 1997 with Toronto.

Acquired Aug. 6, Myers was ineffective and has been on the trading block, but the Padres would have to eat some of his salary in any potential deal.

Hoffman's extension includes a $10 million club option for 2004 which, if exercised, would make the deal worth $40 million over five years. The Padres can buy out the option year for $2 million. For the first time ever, the team has granted a no-trade clause.

Either way, Hoffman, the premier closer in baseball last year with 53 saves in 54 chances, gets what he wanted -- an $8 million average annual salary. His last two deals have been at the so-called San Diego discount, and Hoffman, who wanted to remain with the Padres, made it clear that a new deal would be on his terms. He set a deadline of opening day for completing an extension.

Hoffman, 31, will be paid $4.1 million in 1999, the final year of an $8.4 million, three-year extension he signed in August 1996.

The largest previous deal in Padres history was the $15.5 million, three-year contract given to left-hander Sterling Hitchcock, the MVP of the NL championship series, on Jan. 27.

General manager Kevin Towers, who attended the Padres' game against San Francisco at Scottsdale on Monday, wouldn't confirm or deny the deal. A source familiar with the deal, speaking on the condition he not be identified, said San Diego planned to announce it Tuesday.

Hoffman was not at Monday afternoon's game, but said earlier in the day that talks were "moving in the right direction."

Just a few days ago, Hoffman wondered whether a deal would get done. But talks proceeded at a remarkable clip after Hoffman met this weekend with owner John Moores and club president Larry Lucchino, who were in town for the club's board of directors meeting on Saturday. Hoffman summoned his agent from Florida, and negotiations went late into Sunday night.

"Really, it's been a lot of KT's (Towers') input in regard to getting stuff started," Hoffman said. "I don't know if they want to wait until the end of spring."

Hoffman's .981 save percentage last year was the best in major league history and his 53 saves tied the NL record. He made the All-Star team for the first time and was runner-up to Atlanta's Tom Glavine in the NL Cy Young balloting.

The Padres were 62-4 in games in which Hoffman pitched. His only blown save came on July 26, when he allowed Moises Alou's first-pitch homer in the ninth. That came one day after he matched Rod Beck's big league record with 41 straight saves, a mark later surpassed by Boston's Tom Gordon.

Retaining the popular reliever is certain to be a hit with the fans, who saw Kevin Brown, Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti leave as free agents, and Greg Vaughn and Joey Hamilton depart via trades.

The Padres traded Vaughn in part because of his potential free agent status, and Hoffman feared he might be traded for the same reason. Now he becomes the first player locked up through 2002, when the club is scheduled to move into a new downtown ballpark that was overwhelmingly approved by voters two weeks after the World Series.

Even with all the offseason moves, the Padres project a player payroll of about $48 million, a $3 million increase from the figure they opened 1998 at.

The Padres might have signed Hoffman for an average of $6 million a year in November, but the team broke off talks. The market moved substantially when the division rival Los Angeles Dodgers signed Brown to a $105 million, seven-year deal in December.