O's want Ripken, but for how long?

February 21, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Do the Orioles want Cal Ripken?

The answer is yes -- they've made him a two-year, $13.4 million offer with an option that could bring the package to $18.6 million, according to sources.

Yet, Ripken sounds unsure.

Yesterday, he suggested that the Orioles' offer might have been more of a public-relations ploy than a sincere attempt to sign him to a contract extension.

"It's indicative of a desire, probably," Ripken said. "But again, you can look at the negotiation process as just the negotiation process.

"They feel maybe from a public-relations standpoint that they have to negotiate somewhat. That's not indicative of the end result, so I don't know."

Whoa there, future Hall of Famer.

If a $13.4 million offer is simply good PR, we all should feel so unwanted.

The question isn't the Orioles' intent. The question is whether Ripken will take two years with an option, or insist on three years guaranteed.

His agent, Ron Shapiro, made a counterproposal this week, and Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone said the two sides are "getting closer."

GM Pat Gillick said the Orioles are engaged in "a positive dialogue" with Shapiro. And Ripken said he is "optimistic, hopeful everything will work out."

Sounds good -- about as good as it sounded for Mike Mussina before his talks regarding a contract extension broke down earlier this month.

Each negotiation is different, but it stands to reason that the sticking point for Ripken will be the same it was for Mussina -- length of contract.

Mussina wants four years guaranteed; the Orioles offered three and an option. Ripken is in the same predicament, minus one year.

Is that enough of a difference for him to leave Baltimore as a free agent?

It shouldn't be.

But if the Orioles are as serious about holding the line as they were with Mussina -- and they're probably more serious with a player who turns 37 in August -- then Ripken will face precisely that decision.

The difference between two years and an option and three guaranteed might appear subtle, but it could translate to more than $7 million.

The belief here is that Mussina deserves four years guaranteed because he likely would command five as a 28-year-old free-agent ace.

But for Ripken, what would be so horrible about two years and an option?

It's understandable that the Orioles don't want to guarantee him $6 million-plus the year he turns 40.

And if Ripken remains productive -- a reasonable assumption for a player in such excellent condition -- he'll get his money in the end.

The Orioles want to keep him at his current $6.2 million salary, but their offer includes a $1 million buyout if they do not exercise his option for the year 2000.

It's obviously not as much as Ripken wants -- he's believed to be seeking a three-year, $21 million extension. But what if the ZTC Orioles increased the potential value of the package to say, $20 million?

That should be enough, even if the third year was not guaranteed.

Ripken would be getting a raise. And the club would be protected if his skills suddenly diminished.

Could he command more on the free-agent market?

Perhaps.

But Shapiro would be foolish to put Ripken in Dodger blue or Yankee pinstripes simply because the Orioles wouldn't guarantee a third year.

And Ripken would be foolish to bolt his hometown and risk being portrayed as just another greedy athlete if that's the deciding factor.

The Orioles face their own risks -- many fans would be outraged if they lost Ripken, regardless of the circumstances.

One side must blink.

And if Ripken is the Iron Man, Shapiro and Orioles owner Peter Angelos are men of iron wills.

Their relationship became strained after another Shapiro client, broadcaster Jon Miller, left for San Francisco.

Shapiro called Angelos on Thanksgiving morning in an attempt to move beyond the Miller dispute, according to sources.

But Angelos rebuffed his overture.

Ripken said, "I refuse to believe that a personality clash would affect these negotiations.

"I have too much respect for both parties to believe it would not be handled in a very professional way. For not one moment would I believe that's a problem."

It sounded almost like a warning to both Shapiro and Angelos -- don't screw this up, boys -- but in the end, Ripken will make the call.

"Sometimes, if you're not wanted on a player-personnel level, you have to pursue other options," he said. "If you're not wanted for financial reasons or otherwise, that still means you're not wanted, and you have to deal with that.

"I don't think I'm at that point yet. But if I were, I'd have to deal with it."

No, he won't.

The Orioles want him.

They've offered him a chance to earn $18.6 million.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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