The Orioles appear to be very close to signing free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, but a second straight day of intense negotiations ended late last night without an agreement.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond traveled to Chicago on Wednesday for a face-to-face session with agent Jim Bronner, then continued the negotiations throughout the day yesterday. Sources indicated that the club is ready to give Palmeiro the rich five-year deal that he has been seeking, but the structure of the contract apparently still was being worked out when the two sides called it a night.
"Nothing has been resolved," Hemond said last night. "We've been talking, but I don't want to get into the details."
Orioles managing general partner Peter Angelos was not directly involved in the negotiations last night, but he monitored the situation throughout the evening from his downtown office.
The negotiations stalled at about 9 p.m., but are expected to resume early today. Sources indicated that the Orioles are offering a package slightly better than the five-year, $27.5 million contract that Will Clark turned down two weeks ago -- a deal that would be very difficult for Palmeiro to refuse at this point in the off-season. There are indications that the deal could be struck in time for the Orioles to call an afternoon news conference.
"Nothing's done yet," Palmeiro said from his Texas home. "We are talking with them. I hope we get something done soon."
Palmeiro batted .295 with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs for the Texas Rangers last year, putting together a career season at just the right time to take advantage of his free-agent eligibility. But an early miscalculation and an uncertain market have delayed his big payday.
His intention was to re-sign with the Rangers, but that opportunity disappeared after he turned down a five-year, $26.5 million offer and the Rangers turned to free-agent first baseman Clark instead. The market for Palmeiro's services diminished further when two other big-name free-agent first basemen -- Eddie Murray and Andres Gallaraga -- signed ahead of him.
The Orioles hoped that might persuade Bronner to consider a shorter contract, reportedly starting with an offer of three years for $16 million, but the club apparently stepped up to five years during the past two days.
So what's the holdup? Palmeiro apparently would like the Orioles tostructure the contract so that some of the salary is front-loaded into a large signing bonus. That way, he can take advantage of the more lenient tax laws in Texas to save a small fortune in state income taxes.
The addition of Palmeiro would end the club's hunt for offensive help, but Angelos says that there still is room on the payroll for another front-line starting pitcher -- if Hemond can come up with a package sufficient to acquire one.
The Orioles are known to have inquired about San Diego Padres pitcher Andy Benes and the Houston Astros' Pete Harnisch, a former Oriole, but may not have the available personnel to make a deal of that magnitude.