Cubs sign Beck for one season O's interest never got to point of contract offer

January 16, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' interest in Rod Beck was shown to be a non-starter yesterday when the free-agent right-handed reliever signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Chicago Cubs plus a player option for 1999.

After listening to Beck's agents for the past several days, the Orioles never presented a formal offer, even when the asking price crashed from three years guaranteed to one. As recently as Wednesday, agents Rick Thurman and Jeff Borris had tried to interest Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos in a deal that would bring Beck an average $5 million a year.

"We thought they always had mild interest, but we found ourselves in a position where they weren't able to make a counterproposal," Borris said last night.

Beck lingered for nearly three months on a pitching-thin market, testimony to misgivings about his troubled second half with the San Francisco Giants. Beck is a transitional pitcher, adapting to an off-speed assortment after years as a power pitcher.

Orioles officials yesterday disputed any impression that they were preparing a serious offer. Contrary to claims by Beck's agents and despite discussions with Angelos, assistant general manager Kevin Malone called the issue "old news" and maintained there was no real interest in the former All-Star who carries 199 career saves into next season.

Indeed, Beck's agents appeared to make an end run around general manager Pat Gillick and Malone, both of whom shared industry concerns about Beck's health.

"Right now, I don't see anything else happening before spring training," Malone said. "We're pleased with our situation."

That situation will apparently have Armando Benitez and Arthur Rhodes enter spring training as tag-team closers. Neither has handled the role before. However, the club tried to distance itself from any involvement with Beck to avoid a perceived lack of confidence in its projected closers.

Facing the return of Terry Adams (2-9, 4.62) as closer, the Cubs helped themselves greatly within the unexceptional National League Central without guaranteeing Beck a second year. Instead, they agreed to a $5.5 million option for 1999 that automatically vests after 55 appearances. (Beck has averaged 36 saves and 64 appearances the last five seasons.)

The Orioles were offered a similar deal but did not budge. Beck, 29, may also choose to walk away from the Cubs and re-enter free agency after next season.

"It's nice that there's some finality to this," Borris said. "Now Rod is going to go out and have another Rod Beck year."

Should the Orioles still feel a need to cast about for another closer, the Philadelphia Phillies' Ricky Bottalico represents a final option. Bottalico, 28, converted 34 of 41 save chances last season while striking out 89 in 74 innings. He is also arbitration-eligible, likely making him less costly than Beck. The Phillies would likely seek outfield help in return, the one area in which the Orioles may have room to deal. Jeffrey Hammonds, currently projected as a fourth outfielder, has long been coveted by the Phillies.

NOTES: Benitez and outfielders Hammonds and Tony Tarasco were among 79 major-league players who filed for salary arbitration yesterday. Players who filed and are still unsigned will exchange figures with their teams Tuesday. Third baseman Cal Ripken has been added to a fan forum at the Orioles FanFest on Jan. 31 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Former player and first-year coach Eddie Murray will take part in forums Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. FanFest hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 31 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 1. Tickets each day are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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