Angelos: Contracts on hold Erickson, Surhoff signings not expected before opener

March 28, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos said yesterday it is possible but increasingly unlikely he will reach an agreement with left fielder B. J. Surhoff or starting pitcher Scott Erickson on a contract extension before Opening Day, meaning the club may begin the season with an unprecedented 14 players -- 56 percent of its roster -- as pending free agents.

"Nothing has changed," Angelos said. "You do it if you can get it done, but it certainly doesn't become a desperate situation if a resolution has to wait."

Having returned from a one-day trip to the club's spring training facility, Angelos reiterated that the deal "will get done" and insisted that a failure to sign either player before the season does not imply any rancor.

"All of these negotiations involve substantial sums of money. The structure of these contracts is not to be taken lightly," Angelos said. "We plan to move ahead, but I don't see the necessity for a specific deadline."

Erickson, Surhoff, second baseman Roberto Alomar and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro represent the four most pressing cases. Given that Alomar and Palmeiro desire nothing less than five-year deals, keeping all four probably will require a commitment of $121 million to $125 million.

Angelos, who negotiated extensions for Cal Ripken, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson last year, assumed control of all contract talks from general manager Pat Gillick earlier this month. However, Angelos has remained focused on tobacco litigation in his private law practice. As of last night he had not spoken with representatives for either player for several days.

A deal with Erickson appears closest after Angelos recently agreed to a fourth year that would keep the right-hander in Baltimore through the 2002 season.

Erickson's package would reportedly be worth about $24 million, about $500,000 a year less than he originally sought.

At issue is the amount of money to be deferred. Angelos is seeking to postpone payment of $1.25 million to $1.5 million per season at no interest, a premise of his deals with Mussina and Anderson.

A three-year framework is in place for Surhoff's deal, but the two sides still have to resolve financial issues. While neither player set a spring training deadline for a deal to be completed, both thought a resolution possible by now.

Erickson projects as next winter's third-most attractive free-agent pitcher behind Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown.

Angelos has initiated talks with Alomar's agent, Jaime Torres, on an extension. The club's fourth free agent priority, Palmeiro, has so far received only token attention.

O's biggest spenders

The Orioles have the highest payroll in baseball, according to a salary survey compiled by management's Player Relations Committee. A look at the five highest and lowest payrolls, plus the luxury tax to be assessed on the top five teams:

Top five

Team ......... Payroll ........ Tax

Orioles ... $74,303,497 .... $3,080,439

Braves ..... 71,639,725 ..... 2,148,119

Red Sox .... 71,318,403 ..... 2,035,656

Yankees .... 70,583,730 ..... 1,778,520

Indians .... 66,850,303 ....... 471,821

Bottom five

Twins ..... $34,883,022

Reds ....... 32,467,793

Athletics .. 26,646,584

Pirates .... 24,407,251

Expos ...... 16,031,584

Note: Payrolls based on averages of multi-year contracts and include $5,165,084 in miscellaneous expenses.

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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