Surhoff now asks four years, $18M Pirates, O's moves ratchet up his price

November 21, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' attempts to re-sign free-agent left fielder B. J. Surhoff continue to become more complicated.

Emboldened by a superior offer from the small-market Pittsburgh Pirates, Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton, has asked the Orioles for a four-year contract worth more than $18 million, after more than a year of negotiations revolving around a three-year framework.

Surhoff, 34, has noted the Orioles' pursuit of free agents Brian Jordan, Todd Stottlemyre and Rafael Palmeiro with four-year offers and their signings of outfielder Brady Anderson and pitcher Scott Erickson to five-year deals.

"They've already created the precedent," Surhoff says. "They haven't had a problem offering [four years] to other guys. It's not like I'm asking them to do something crazy. It's hard to understand why they're willing to go four years with players outside the organization, but they have a problem with players who've been here."

Having averaged more than 150 games played in three seasons with the Orioles, Surhoff has produced 61 home runs and 262 RBIs, including career bests of 22 home runs and 92 RBIs last season while playing every game.

"I certainly think that I deserve to get four years. It's not like I'm a health question," said Surhoff. "I'm going to be available every day unless I get hit in the head or sprain an ankle. If you look at my record I don't see how health concerns can be held against me."

General manager Frank Wren said last night that Surhoff's modified demand "is something we can potentially get around."

"I wouldn't say four years is a make-or-break issue," Clifton said yesterday. "However, the fact that another club has offered it introduces another factor to consider."

While wrangling over Surhoff, the Orioles are turning to possible trades to address deficiencies. A deal for New York Mets catcher Todd Hundley is gaining momentum, with closer Armando Benitez and a prospect -- possibly third baseman Ryan Minor -- as compensation. Second basemen Fernando Vina (Milwaukee) and Tony Womack (Pittsburgh) also represent possible successors to free agent Roberto Alomar, now expected to sign with the Cleveland Indians early next week.

Outbid by the Arizona Diamondbacks for starting pitcher Stottlemyre, Wren may increase his pursuit of marquee arms Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson. The Orioles have already made a three-year offer approaching $30 million to Johnson, who is expected to pare his list of suitors this weekend.

In Surhoff's case, roster flexibility may represent an issue to the Orioles, who already have two players -- Anderson and Cal Ripken -- with veto power over trades.

Should he remain with the Orioles, Surhoff would assume similar leverage after the 2000 season. Erickson, who begins a five-year contract next season, also gains veto power over any trade after 2000.

Retaining Surhoff once seemed a simple task. A Baltimore loyalist, he approached the club 13 months ago regarding an extension that would have allowed the parties to avert free agency, and believed the matter would be settled before the end of spring training.

Surhoff initially sought $13.5 million over three years; the Orioles countered with a three-year, $12 million offer that included $3 million deferred at no interest. Without a general manager until after the World Series, the team allowed the matter to sit until after the free agency filing period.

The Orioles halved their differences by offering a three-year, $12.75 million contract last week. It quickly drew competition.

Besides the Pirates, the New York Mets have expressed interest, upgrading their initial $12.75 million offer by adding an option for a fourth season. A $750,000 buyout bumped the guaranteed value to $13.5 million.

"Right now," Clifton said, "the Orioles are sitting in third place."

Surhoff won't be sitting for long. He and Clifton are scheduled to meet with Pirates general manager Cam Bonifay and owner Kevin McClatchey on Monday. The Pirates' offer exceeds last year's $13.695 million payroll.

Surhoff admits he prefers to remain with the Orioles, but insists he won't undermine his negotiating position. He now wonders whether his oft-stated desire to stay in Baltimore might have caused the club to hold back in negotiations.

"In some ways, it does seem like [wanting to return] has been used against me," he said. "If they're using it against me, I have a real problem with that."

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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