Surhoff no lock to stay Oriole Free-agent outfielder is scheduled to meet with Mets on Tuesday

Trip follows Pirates visit

O's reportedly ready offers to Belle, Brown

November 25, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Sandra McKee contributed to this article.

While the Orioles remain no closer to re-signing B. J. Surhoff, the free-agent outfielder is scheduled to meet with New York Mets executives on Tuesday. The trip comes a week after the Pittsburgh Pirates made their pitch to Surhoff, who has expressed his desire to stay with the Orioles but no longer is considered certain to return.

The Mets and Orioles have offered similar three-year deals worth about $13.5 million, but Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton, said the Mets are open to revising their proposal. And unlike the Orioles, the Mets' offer doesn't include deferred money. They wanted to meet with Surhoff today but were told to wait until after the holiday.

Orioles general manager Frank Wren contacted Clifton yesterday, but the only concession was the possibility of a vesting option for 2002. The deal also includes a $1 million deferred signing bonus for January 2000.

The small-market Pittsburgh Pirates came up big with a four-year deal worth slightly more than $16.5 million, and also are willing to modify their proposal, Clifton said.

Saying he won't negotiate through the papers, Wren only confirmed that he talked to Clifton yesterday. Asked if he was as confident in being able to retain Surhoff as a few weeks ago, Wren said: "I've never expressed confidence in re-signing anyone. I'll just say that we're working toward it."

Clifton is puzzled by the Orioles' reluctance to include a fourth year after offering outfielder Brian Jordan a five-year, $40 million deal. Jordan signed with the Atlanta Braves on Monday.

"As of right now, they're happy with their proposal," Clifton said.

A source close to the negotiations said the Orioles were willing to give Jordan a lengthier contract because he's three years younger than Surhoff, who's 34 and coming off a season when he hit .279 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs and appeared in every game. The club offered Rafael Palmeiro, who's the same age as Surhoff, a four-year deal because he's a prodigious home run hitter, the source said.

Clifton agreed there may be a perception within the Orioles' front office that Surhoff wants to remain here badly enough that the club doesn't feel it has to budge from its offer. Surhoff's wife, Polly, is from Howard County, and their son Mason, 6, who has a form of autism, has been treated at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"B. J. would not have gone to Pittsburgh if he wasn't seriously considering them, and he wouldn't be going to New York if he wasn't seriously considering them," Clifton said. "If they don't think B. J. Surhoff will leave, they should check with the Milwaukee Brewers. They played the same game three years ago and he ended up in Baltimore."

Surhoff and Clifton spent about five hours in Pittsburgh on Monday. They dined with owner Kevin McClatchy, general manager Cam Bonifay and manager Gene Lamont, were shown the plans for a new ballpark and given assurances that the organization no longer would be unable to contend because of budget constraints. They also relayed their knowledge of Mason's special needs and attempted to ease Surhoff's concerns about his son's care. Bonifay called Clifton again yesterday to see if Surhoff had any questions.

Surhoff, who was at the Baltimore Arena last night for Pam Shriver's charity tennis event, said of his visit to Pittsburgh: "I was impressed with the way they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. I like what they're trying to do, but my No. 1 choice is to stay here. I've said that from the beginning, but it seems to get used against me because they don't think I'll leave. I left one other time. I didn't want to do it then either."

The New York Times reported in today's editions that the Orioles are expressing interest in free-agent slugger Albert Belle and pitcher Kevin Brown.

New York Yankees officials are believed to have made a four-year offer to Belle for between $48 million and $50 million, and general manager Brian Cashman negotiated with Belle's agent for much of yesterday. Belle's asking price could climb as high as $60 million. A deal could be completed as soon as today, although the emergence of the Orioles in the chase for Belle could delay resolution until after the holiday weekend. Arn Tellem, Belle's agent, would not tell the Times whether the Orioles had entered the bidding. He did say this: "There have been some interesting developments, that's for sure."

A major-league executive told the Times that an offer likely was forthcoming, perhaps as soon as last night.

The Orioles have informed Brown's agent that they are willing to give him a five-year deal. Brown, a former Oriole, wants at least $12 million annually and a six-year contract.

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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