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BRAVES MAKE SMOLTZ RICHEST PITCHER EVER

SHARE BRAVES MAKE SMOLTZ RICHEST PITCHER EVER

John Smoltz followed Albert Belle into the salary record books, re-signing with Atlanta for the largest contract ever given to a pitcher.

Smoltz, the NL Cy Young award winner, agreed Wednesday to a $31 million, four-year contract. His average salary of $7.75 million tops the previous record for pitchers, $6.5 million in David Cone's deal with the New York Yankees.Smoltz's average is third overall in baseball behind the $11 million per year in Belle's $55 million, five-year contract with the Chicago White Sox and the $8.5 million in Ken Griffey Jr.'s $34 million, four-year deal with Seattle.

"This organization has shown me the ultimate in signing me to this contract," Smoltz said. "There were some teams that obviously made it clear they wanted my services. But my main goal as an athlete has always been to stay in one organization as long as I possibly can. I want to play my entire career here."

In other free-agent signings Wednesday, third baseman Dave Hollins agreed to a $3.8 million, two-year contract with Anaheim and second baseman Delino DeShields agreed to a $1.9 million, one-year contract with St. Louis. Among players eligible for arbitration, Florida right-hander Pat Rapp agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,125,000, more than triple his $350,000 salary last season.

Reliever Jesse Orosco and Baltimore agreed late Tuesday to a one-year contract worth $850,000. Orosco was prevented from filing for free agency when the Orioles offered arbitration last Friday.

Meanwhile, details of Belle's contract became available, and they revealed he will get $10 million in each of the next five seasons, with the White Sox holding a $10 million option for 2002. If the option isn't exercised, Belle would get a buyout of $5 million-$8 million.

Also, he has the right to ask for a raise any time after the end of the 1998 season if three players sign deals three years or longer for a higher average salary. If the White Sox don't raise him to at least the third-highest salary, Belle could terminate the deal and become a free agent again.

After losing Belle, Cleveland was among the teams pursuing Smoltz, a 29-year-old right-hander who led the majors last season in wins and strikeouts (276).

Smoltz, coming off a $16 million, four-year contract, gets $7 million in 1997, $7.75 million the next two years and $8.5 million in 2000. The Braves have an $8 million option for 2001.

Next up are extensions for Greg Maddux, who won the Cy Young award from 1992-95, and Tom Glavine, who won it in 1991.

"I think we have needs before doing long-term contracts for anyone in particular," Braves president Stan Kasten said. "Whatever needs arise, we'll take care of, and along the way we'll also continue to make decisions. You can't pay 25 guys at these levels, but we'll do the best we can."

Hollins, 30, played 121 games with Minnesota and 28 with Seattle last season, finishing with a .262 average, 16 homers and 78 RBIs. He drove in 93 runs in 1992 and again in 1993 but has been bothered by hand injuries that required three operations.

"The last two months of the 1996 season I felt like my old self again," Hollins said. "I couldn't play any better for the Mariners than I did, but they made pitching a priority."

Anaheim gave him $1.9 million in each of the next two seasons and has a $1.9 million option for 1999.

"He has a chance to fill more than one need, at third base and first base," Angels general manager Bill Bavasi said.

DeShields, 27, was signed by the Cardinals as a reclamation project. His best years were in Montreal, where he hit .292 in 1992 and .295 in 1993. He was mostly a disappointment in three years in Los Angeles, slumping to a .224 average last season with 124 strikeouts.

"It was a number of things, mainly nagging injuries," DeShields said. "A lot of times I shouldn't have been out there, but I played."

DeShields, who made $3 million in each of the last two seasons, gets $1.6 million in 1997. St. Louis has a $3 million option with a $300,000 buyout.

St. Louis also thought about trading for or signing other available second basemen, a group that includes Jeff King of Pittsburgh, Ryne Sandberg of Chicago and Eric Young of Colorado.

"In the long run, we felt that Delino gave us our best option, because we didn't have to mortgage our future by trading away prospects, and we still have some flexibility to make additional moves to improve the team for 1997," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Baltimore, meanwhile, gave a $300,000 raise to Orosco, who was 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA in 66 games last season. In 55 2-3 innings, the left-hander allowed 42 hits with 28 walks and 52 strikeouts.