Beck back on Orioles' agenda Closer's price drops

multi-year proposal for $5M a year eyed

January 15, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles have spoken with representatives for free-agent reliever Rod Beck about a multi-year deal that would restore a proven commodity to the closer's role while bumping the team's payroll about $5 million per season.

Though talks are not close to critical mass, sources familiar with the talks confirmed that Beck's agents spoke yesterday with Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos in an attempt to revive interest in the right-hander, who has spent seven seasons with the San Francisco Giants.

Beck's agents include Jeff Borris, who helped negotiate a five-year, $31 million deal for center fielder Brady Anderson last month. At the time, Borris attempted to interest the club in Beck but met with little success given his pursuit of a contract similar to the four-year, $22.5 million deal awarded Roberto Hernandez by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The asking price has since dropped, bringing Beck's agents back to the Orioles.

Sources familiar with negotiations said the Orioles are mulling over a two-year and a three-year proposal but are more likely to focus on the shorter package. The average annual value would approach $5 million.

Beck, 29, would represent a shock to the Orioles' buttoned-down system but perhaps the answer to Randy Myers' defection to the Toronto Blue Jays. Beck's free-flowing mane, downturned mustache and oversized appearance give pause to an organization that prohibits beards and long hair and is increasingly concerned about conditioning. Beck has told his agents he would trim his mustache and cut his hair to play in Baltimore. He also is trying to shed weight from a 6-foot-1 frame that has at times topped 250 pounds.

The Cleveland Indians also continue to bend the Orioles' ear about closer Jose Mesa, whom they are attempting to move so that they can sign Beck themselves. Earlier talks bogged down when the Orioles discussed prospects only.

Without Myers, the team's clearly defined relief roles become muddied. Obtaining a proven closer would again give the Orioles the league's most forbidding bullpen. Manager Ray Miller plans to begin the season with 12 pitchers, a concession to the bullpen's unsettled status. He has spoken of a closer role shared by right-hander Armando Benitez and left-hander Arthur Rhodes.

Benitez, one of three arbitration-eligible Orioles, converted nine of 10 save opportunities last season and struck out 106 in 73 1/3 innings. He was often unhittable, ranking third in the league in inherited runners scored (21.1 percent) However, given Benitez's flameout in last October's American League Championship Series and disturbing questions about his maturity, the club hasn't ruled out importing a replacement for Myers.

Beck has 199 career saves, including 37 in 45 chances last year. He led the National League with 66 games finished and was the only NL reliever selected for the All-Star Game. But Beck's ERA nearly doubled from the first half (2.43) to the second (4.64), when his saves shriveled from 29 to 8.

Beck allowed only six unintentional walks last season, but his control within the strike zone is even more important given Camden Yards' claustrophobic confines. The Orioles have to reconcile making virtually the same investment in Beck that they had offered Myers, who signed with Toronto in November for $18 million over three years. The fourth-place finisher in AL Most Valuable Player balloting, Myers was coming off one of the best years ever by a reliever -- 45 saves in 46 chances with a 1.51 ERA -- and Beck's lingering availability reflects questions about his health. He has lost velocity on his fastball the past two seasons and now relies heavily on a split-finger pitch. Rather than attempt to re-sign him, the Giants traded for Marlins closer Robb Nen and refused to offer Beck arbitration.

Mesa, a former Oriole who dealt with legal problems before regaining his closer role with the Indians midway through last season, saved 85 games in 1995-96. Three years ago he was the league's dominant closer, converting 46 of 48 chances. After being cleared of rape charges, Mesa staggered to a 1-4 record and 4.25 ERA in the first half last year. He closed with a rush, going 3-0 with 13 saves and an 0.97 ERA in the second half, finishing with 16 saves and a 2.40 ERA.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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