Snubbed Berroa is free swinger O's refuse to tender him contract, cut ties

agent upset by delay

December 21, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Failing to work out a new contract or a trade, the Orioles ended their association with Geronimo Berroa yesterday by allowing the midnight deadline to pass for tendering a contract to the outfielder and making him a free agent.

The Orioles made offers to reliever Armando Benitez and outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Tarasco. They'll go through arbitration if unable to reach contract agreements by the end of next month.

Berroa was acquired from the Oakland Athletics on June 27 for minor-league pitchers Jimmy Haynes and Mark Seaver, with expectations that the free swinger would inject some life into a quiet offense. After starting slowly, Berroa hit .260 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs as an Oriole. Overall, he batted .283 with 26 homers and 90 RBIs, and ranked among the American League leaders with a .358 average against left-handed pitching.

He was strong in the Division Series, batting .385 (5-for-13) with two homers, and contributed a two-run single in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that helped the Orioles stave off elimination for another day.

A below-average fielder, Berroa became expendable after the Orioles signed free-agent outfielder/designated hitter Joe Carter on Dec. 12 to a one-year contract worth $3.3 million. Berroa, 32, earned the same amount last season and would have been in line for a substantial bump through arbitration.

General manager Pat Gillick said that assistant GM Kevin Malone had been negotiating with Berroa's agent, Adam Katz, until the day before the Orioles signed Carter, and that owner Peter Angelos had held discussions with Katz's partner, Tom Reich. The club was unable to trade Berroa after that, with teams knowing he would become a free agent.

"We made an attempt to retain him and tried to negotiate a contract. When we were unable to do that, we had to go in another direction," Gillick said.

"When we signed Joe, that really put us out of the picture for Geronimo."

Asked if he ever felt the two sides were close to reaching an agreement before the Orioles turned to Carter, Gillick said, "I thought we were, [but] he was looking for more money than we wanted to pay.

"The issue wasn't years, the issue was the salary per year. It wasn't so much the length. They were agreeable to doing one year, two years, or two years and an option, or three years. It was just the average annual value of the contract, as well as how it was going to be structured."

Yesterday, Katz reiterated his admiration for Gillick and Malone but also expressed disappointment that the Orioles waited so long before indicating Berroa no longer had a future with the club.

"Pat and Kevin are old and trusted friends, and Mr. Angelos and Tom get along quite well," he said. "I don't want to beat a dead horse here. That being said, I was given an extremely strong indication that Geronimo was going to be part of the Oriole program. I was being told that my position was more than reasonable. So yes, we were surprised."

Katz also disagreed that money was a sticking point in negotiations.

"The problem wasn't that we had a difference of opinion in where Geronimo belonged in terms of dollars and terms," he said. "The Orioles indicated our position was more than reasonable. My quarrel with the Orioles is they could have let me know much earlier and permitted me to go create something else for Geronimo. I'm not allowed to talk to anybody else until he's non-tendered. Here we are on Dec. 20, and a lot of the jobs for that kind of player are gone, and a lot of the money is gone, and Geronimo is left scrambling. I don't think Geronimo deserves that.

"They could have let us know early. That's how Montreal let me work Henry Rodriguez [who was traded to the Chicago Cubs]. They let me know Henry was a very likely non-tender and go create something. I was given authority to create something, whereas the Orioles strung me out. I had asked them back in Arizona, 'Please do not do this to this fine young man.'

"When you couple that with the fact negotiations were going extremely well, then I was disappointed. But I'm done discussing this because I hold Kevin and Pat in extremely high regard. I just don't think the situation was handled properly."

Katz said he expects there still to be plenty of interest in Berroa from other teams. "He's going to do fine, but it's late in the game so it's going to be a little bit of a struggle," he said.

Pub Date: 12/21/97

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