Reds Beat Fernandez in Arbitration

Wednesday, February 21st 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

Cincinnati beat Osvaldo Fernandez in salary arbitration Wednesday when a panel decided he will get the club's $600,000 offer rather than his $1.2 million request.

Fernandez was 4-3 with a 3.62 ERA in 14 starts and one relief appearance last year, when he made $500,000.

Elisabeth Neumeier, Richard Bloch and Matthew Finken made the decision one day after hearing the case in Phoenix.

Owners have a 7-6 lead with one player's arbitration case remaining to be decided — Baltimore pitcher Jose Mercedes. A decision was expected later Wednesday.

Boston pitcher Rich Garces, whose hearing had been scheduled for Wednesday, agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,375,000, nearly double his $695,000 salary last season. He had asked for $1.75 million and had been offered $1.25 million.

On Tuesday, Oakland pitcher Jim Mecir agreed to a $6.95 million, three-year contract, and Minnesota pitcher LaTroy Hawkins, who had been scheduled for a hearing Tuesday, agreed to a $4 million, two-year deal.

In Tuesday's only decision, Atlanta outfielder Andruw Jones became the first player in nine years to set a salary arbitration record with a win when a panel selected his $8.2 million request over the Braves' $6.4 million offer.

``We felt like we had a strong case,'' Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. ``I'm surprised a little bit, but not entirely. That's the nature of this process.''

Jones' salary eclipsed the previous arbitration high of $7.25 million set last year by New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera — who requested $9.25 million, but lost his hearing.

Texas outfielder Ruben Sierra had been the last player to set a record with a win, getting $5 million in 1992. That mark was broken two years later by Chicago White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell, who lost his case but got $5.3 million. No one topped that figure until Rivera last year.

Jones, who made $3.7 million last season, had his best year in 2000, hitting .303 with 36 homers, 104 RBIs and 21 steals. The center fielder also won his third straight Gold Glove.

Howard Block, Roger Kaplan and Neumeier made the decision after hearing the case Monday.

``It's probably a surprise to some people, but not to me,'' Braves catcher Eddie Perez said. ``He's the best player we've got and the best center fielder I've ever seen.''

Jones' agent, Scott Boras, stopped a seven-case losing streak.

``We would have settled at the midpoint in this case, but they chose not to accept it,'' Boras said.

During the hearing, Boras compared his client to Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who agreed this month to a $189 million, 10-year deal.

``We had videos of Andruw's throwing, his speed, his power, his ability to hit for average, showing he's a five-tool player,'' Boras said.

Jones, who turns 24 in April, is eligible for free agency after the 2002 season. Boras said the Braves have talked about the possibility of a multiyear contract, but that talks have not gotten very detailed. He compared Jones with another of his clients, shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who in December agreed to a $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas.

``It's always difficult when you have young players like Andruw and Alex,'' Boras said. ``You're going to have to have a contract to allow adjustments within the contract. So while it's open for us, it's going to take special considerations on the part of the club and it's usually something they don't want to do until a player's a free agent.''

Mercedes, who went to a hearing Monday, asked to be awarded $3.8 million instead of the team's $2.75 million offer.

Mercedes made $800,000 last year, going 14-7 with a 4.02 ERA in 20 starts and 16 relief appearances. His case was heard by Block, Reginald Alleyne and Kenneth Perea.

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