Angelos takes over O's contract talks Gillick, Malone to pass proposals to owner

March 06, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Hoping to streamline negotiations with an unprecedented rush of free agents, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos will assume control of all talks during spring training as well as after, according to a high-ranking club official.

The philosophy contrasts with the last two years, when general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone conducted talks during spring training, then turned matters over to Angelos during the regular season. Instead of negotiating face-to-face with agents, Gillick instead is forwarding all proposals to Angelos, who is prepared to act on the advice of his front office. The Orioles have 13 players who are eligible to become free agents after this season.

All talks conducted to date are described as "preliminary."

Last spring, Gillick and Malone juggled negotiations with center fielder Brady Anderson, pitcher Mike Mussina and third baseman Cal Ripken before Angelos eventually finalized the deal with each player. Ripken became the only one to agree to terms before Opening Day. Anderson's negotiations lingered through the season, and eventually he filed for free agency, re-signing in December.

Gillick met Wednesday with Rick Thurman, the agent for pitcher Scott Erickson, but apparently did not discuss specific numbers. He and Malone also have spoken with Jim Bronner, who represents first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, and Jaime Torres, agent for second baseman Roberto Alomar. Bids have not yet been exchanged.

Angelos has spoken directly with Palmeiro, who assured him of his desire to stay in Baltimore. Palmeiro also has said he believes it unlikely he would return if a deal was not done by the end of camp.

Since Gillick began talks with B.J. Surhoff almost two months ago, the left fielder's situation appears further along, though no deal is believed imminent. The club and Surhoff's agent, Greg Clifton, have agreed on a three-year framework.

The Orioles have made Erickson a three-year, $16 million offer that is believed a year shy and about $1 million per season less than what the pitcher seeks. Thurman apparently will argue the innings-monster Erickson should be in the same league with pitchers such as Wilson Alvarez, Pedro Astacio, Ken Hill, Darryl Kile and Alex Fernandez, all of whom signed deals worth between $5.9 million and $8 million per season. Erickson has averaged 214 2/3 innings and 13 wins the past five full seasons. The Orioles remain equally determined to maintain Mike Mussina's $6.855 million average as tops for its pitchers.

Erickson has chosen to stay out of the fray but, like Palmeiro, is less likely to consider below-market money to remain in Baltimore.

"I don't want this to become a distraction to myself or the team," he said. "I'm concerning myself with this year, not my contract for next season. If it happens, it happens."

The Orioles also must factor what is available to them should Erickson leave. Next winter offers a tepid free-agent market except for Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown, both of whom will command substantially more than Erickson. The leftovers include Bobby Witt, Al Leiter, Tim Belcher and Mark Clark. The Orioles also may have to replace Jimmy Key, who also is among their 13 pending free agents.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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