The Orioles have begun a frenetic shopping spree by extending a four-year offer to home-grown outfielder Brian Jordan that could make the former two-sport star the highest-paid player in club history.
Jordan's agent, Jim Turner, and Orioles general manager Frank Wren confirmed an offer was made last weekend to the free agent, who has played with the St. Louis Cardinals the past seven seasons. The offer is believed to approach $30 million, which would challenge the $7.3 million average of third baseman Cal Ripken's guaranteed two-year deal.
The Orioles are the only team to have submitted a bid, Turner said, though the New York Yankees, New York Mets and Atlanta Braves are putting together offers. Turner acknowledged yesterday the Orioles currently possess "momentum" in a process he hopes to conclude before Thanksgiving.
The bid for Jordan, 31, comes amid a flurry of negotiating activity during which the Orioles also have expressed interest in high-dollar starting pitchers Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson and Todd Stottlemyre, second baseman Jose Offerman and
outfielder Bernie Williams. Intrigued by Williams, the Orioles may modify their free agency blueprint by chasing Jordan, originally considered a fallback option.
"We've got to be involved in almost everything going on because you have no assurances of what you'll end up with," explained Wren. "We've shown interest in a lot of players."
Not all the interest is confined to free agents as Wren has discussed a possible trade for Mets catcher Todd Hundley. Confident they will re-sign free-agent reliever Alan Mills, the Orioles can dangle closer Armando Benitez.
The Braves trumped the Orioles' interest in second baseman Bret Boone when they packaged former 20-game winner Denny Neagle to the Cincinnati Reds to acquire him. Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina has become a commodity as have Offerman and fellow free agent Delino DeShields.
The Orioles covet Williams, but Jordan more readily fits into the financial stepladder of a club that constructed a $69 million payroll (plus $8 million in benefits and incentives) with no player receiving more than Ripken's $6.3 million base. Williams, a switch-hitting center fielder who led the American League in batting last season, is seeking a seven-year contract that would shatter Mike Piazza's record $91 million recently signed with the Mets.
Not only are Jordan's salary demands easier for Orioles executives to digest, he also possesses a local heritage.
Jordan graduated from Milford Mill High School where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. His parents still live in Baltimore and Turner has made clear to the Orioles that his client would love to play at Camden Yards.
"Brian is certainly excited by the Orioles' interest," said Turner. "He obviously has ties to the city and the team has all the components to win. It's a very appealing situation."
The Orioles, however, are not the only franchise to offer intangibles.
Having just traded Michael Tucker to the Reds, the Braves project Jordan as a right fielder. Jordan lives in Atlanta.
The Yankees, who virtually concede Williams will be elsewhere next season, possess the lure of Joe Torre, Jordan's manager in St. Louis from 1992-95. However, Jordan may be a better fit as center fielder for a team with a more intimate park such as Camden Yards.
Turner said he expects to receive additional offers by week's end and has discussed a meeting with Orioles officials, possibly for sometime next week. Jordan will not wait until Williams signs to determine his market value, according to Turner.
"We have the ability to let clubs know we have a time frame," said Turner. "The time frame may well be in advance of Bernie Williams' time frame. We're making that known."
By acquiring Jordan, manager Ray Miller could then realign his outfield by shifting incumbent center fielder Brady Anderson to left field. Should free agent B. J. Surhoff re-sign -- the Mets are readying a bid for him while the Orioles stand on a three-year, $12 million offer -- he would likely move from left field to right.
"He adds a dimension of speed," Wren said of Jordan, who had 17 steals last season. "He plays hard. He hits for power and for average. I'm not sure anybody knows how good he's going to be."
A former Pro Bowl defensive back with the Atlanta Falcons, Jordan has a reputation as an all-out competitor, one only slightly pocked by his health history. Jordan abandoned football after the 1991 season but has endured a variety of injuries since.
He has spent time on the disabled list three of the past five seasons and endured a limiting shoulder injury in a fourth. However, Jordan avoided the DL last season and produced solid numbers -- .316, 25 homers and 91 RBIs -- batting behind Mark McGwire.
"He's a guy who played the entire '98 season healthy," said Wren. "If you go through an entire major-league season healthy, that's an accomplishment. It's hard to have anything significantly ZTC wrong and do that."
Pub Date: 11/12/98