Negotiations between the Orioles and Cal Ripken have reached the point where all signs point to an announcement within the next 24 hours.
Neither side would confirm that a deal was imminent last night, but acknowledged that talks have intensified.
"We have been talking off and on over a considerable period of time," said club president Larry Lucchino, who declined to speculate on how close he was to closing a deal.
"The only thing I will say is that discussions are ongoing," said Ron Shapiro, Ripken's attorney.
However, Lucchino and Shapiro both seemed cautious, rather than pessimistic, about resolving the matter.
There was some talk at Camden Yards last night that the contract was "a done deal." Those reports were fueled in part by the fact that Ripken arrived at Oriole Park about a half-hour later than usual.
But Shapiro downplayed any significance on Ripken's arrival time at the park as far as the negotiations are concerned. "Cal has other things going on in his life, too," said Shapiro.
One pressing issue, which neither Lucchino nor Shapiro would directly address, is the desire to eliminate negotiations from the last month of the pennant race. Without saying as much, both sides realize that unless an agreement can be reached before the current homestand ends, talks almost certainly would have to be postponed until after the season.
The Orioles leave on a 10-day trip to the West Coast after concluding a three-game series against the California Angels on Wednesday.
And it is far from a coincidence that tomorrow, which is Ripken's 32nd birthday, figures as an ideal target date. There's no doubt that the Orioles would like nothing better than to celebrate the occasion by resolving the issue of his future.
Coming off the most productive year of his career, Ripken has struggled most of this season. His string of hitting at least 20 home runs in 10 successive years, one of only eight in baseball history to do that at the start of a career, is in serious jeopardy. Last season, when he won his second MVP award, he hit .323 with 34 homers and 114 RBI. Through last night's game, Ripken was hitting just .247 with 10 homers and 55 RBI.
The past two years, however, figure to offset each other without seriously damaging Ripken's bargaining position. Assuming that the Orioles and Ripken reach an accord, and that is the indication, it is expected to be worth approximately $30 million for five years.
Depending on how the figures are manipulated, that would, temporarily at least, make Ripken the highest paid player in the game. That position is now generally conceded to Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who has a complicated contract, but one that is fully guaranteed for only four years.
If all elements of Sandberg's contractual obligations as a player are fulfilled, he would earn $29 million over five years, including a $3.5 million signing bonus. In addition, Sandberg has a personal services agreement, which has to be agreed to by both sides, that is worth $2 million, to be paid over four years.
A five-year contract would virtually assure that Ripken would finish his career with the Orioles. It is something he always has said would be desirable, but playing an entire career with one team isn't always possible in today's financial climate.
Barring sudden and unforeseen developments, Ripken should get his wish for a birthday present.