Cal Ripken is expected to get a very expensive, and rewarding, 32nd birthday present today.
There was no significant change in negotiations, but all signs still point to an imminent announcement of a long-term contract between the Orioles and their All-Star shortstop. Papers have yet to be signed, but for all intents and purposes, the deal is as close as it can be without signatures on the documents.
Depending on how the language is spelled out or translated, and clauses that may be included, the contract is believed to be worth about $30 million over five years.
As has been the case since discussions intensified this week, neither side would confirm that a deal has been made -- or is imminent. But there were no denials.
"We're still talking," said Ron Shapiro, who represents Ripken. "That's all I can say at this point."
Orioles president Larry Lucchino also was cautious. "It has been our policy not to talk about the progress -- or non-progress -- on the status of negotiations," Lucchino said. "And I think it's best to try and stick to that policy -- even now."
However, Lucchino and Shapiro have acknowledged that talks have intensified, and that the matter should either be resolved before the final month of the season, or postponed until its completion.
Since negotiations reached the "ongoing" stage within the past two weeks, the obvious target date has been today, Ripken's 32nd birthday. It is not, however, the original "natural" date to make an announcement.
That would have been on Opening Day, but the complexities of reaching an agreement became almost impossible to resolve by then.
Ripken would not comment on yesterday's report that an agreement was close, and could be announced as early as today. "There's nothing more I can add," he said.
Orioles manager Johnny Oates declined to say anything about Ripken's contract, but alluded to the situation in comments after yesterday's 7-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
"I'm sure he feels all the pressure in the world," said Oates, referring to Ripken's subpar home-run (10) and RBI (56) totals. "If the Baltimore Orioles are going to win, he's going to have to contribute because he's a focal point. But he doesn't have to carry the load by himself.
"Last year, I don't know where we would have been without Cal. This year I don't know where we would be without Brady [Anderson] and Devo [Mike Devereaux].
"Sure, he's been struggling, but maybe today's hit will get him going. I've been saying it every time he gets a hit -- and every time he gets one, I think it's going to happen."
Nobody is suggesting that having his contract resolved will be the answer for Ripken, who is in the midst of the longest home-run drought of his career, 55 games. But, it is generally agreed that having the matter out of the way only can help.