O's bidding $65 million to get Belle Club offers 5 years to slugger

same length extended to Palmeiro

$45M for first baseman

Team shows interest in pitcher Brown

November 26, 1998|By Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck | Roch Kubatko and Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles have intensified their November salvage operation by extending contract offers worth a total of $110 million to outfielder Albert Belle and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who inherited status as the free-agent market's most attractive position players after yesterday's signings of Mo Vaughn and Bernie Williams.

Prompted by the loss of Brian Jordan to the Atlanta Braves despite a $40 million bid, general manager Frank Wren made a five-year, $65 million offer to Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, earlier this week, according to sources familiar with negotiations. With the blessing of majority owner Peter Angelos, Wren also modified the Orioles' bid for Palmeiro to $45 million over five years.

The Orioles, apparently no longer considered a possibility by free-agent pitcher Randy Johnson, have made known their interest in Kevin Brown, who is seeking a six-year contract.

An out-of-control free-agent market has taken much of baseball by surprise. However, the well-financed Orioles appear among the most stunned. They originally designated $6 million per season to signing a starting pitcher and an outfielder, while insisting they would not bow to Palmeiro's demand for five years. Not only were their original calculations much too conservative, but they also unsuccessfully bid for Jordan, a Baltimore native, and pitcher Todd Stottlemyre despite offering an average of $8 million to Jordan and $7 million to Stottlemyre.

Two weeks ago, Wren denied interest in Belle. However, the club's inability to make an impact within the market has led to contingencies.

Wren could not be reached last night to comment. However, sources indicate the Orioles' recent bid to Belle conflicts with Angelos' pledge to Palmeiro and agent Jim Bronner last week that the club had no intention of paying $10 million per season to a position player.

Palmeiro, 34, has also benefited from a modified policy.

The first baseman was criticized from within the organization when he suggested last January that he deserved a five-year, $50 million contract. As recently as two weeks ago, Angelos said Palmeiro's return "was not in the cards." However, the Orioles now appear to feel more urgent about retaining Palmeiro, though their latest offer includes about $10 million in deferred money. The Boston Red Sox are believed to have also put together a five-year package. Depending on whether they land Johnson for their starting rotation, the Texas Rangers may also have significant interest.

Most recently, the Arizona Diamondbacks have communicated interest to Bronner. They may be prepared to move Travis Lee to the outfield.

The offer to Belle could conceivably complicate negotiations with Palmeiro because of the dramatic difference between the two deals. The Red Sox's offer is believed to be more lucrative than the Orioles'. Were Palmeiro willing to give the Orioles a "home team discount," the thought may evaporate given the Belle offer.

Reached at his suburban Dallas home last night, Palmeiro had no comment.

Belle hit .328 last season with 49 home runs and 152 RBIs. Palmeiro hit .296 with 43 homers and 121 RBIs.

The Chicago Tribune reported today that, according to a major-league source, the Orioles also have an interest in free-agent third baseman Robin Ventura, who has been Belle's teammate the last two years.

The paper's source indicated that the Orioles have discussed a scenario in which they would sign Ventura, who hit .263 with 21 homers and 91 RBIs, and move Cal Ripken from third base to first. Ventura is weighing a four-year offer from the New York Mets worth about $28 million.

The Tribune reported, too, that Carlos Hernandez's agent, Elliott Vallin, says the Orioles, White Sox and Anaheim Angels have made offers to his client, the San Diego Padres' primary catcher in the World Series. Hernandez hit .262 with nine homers and 52 RBIs in 390 at-bats.

Also yesterday, pitcher Doug Drabek said he's still not certain if he'll return for a 14th season or announce his retirement. He doesn't appear to be in the Orioles' plans for 1999 after going 6-11 with a 7.29 ERA and losing his spot in the rotation. Drabek, 36, also was on the disabled list from Aug. 8 to Sept. 1 with a pulled left hamstring.

"I'm still just kind of looking to see what's out there and what's available and what it's going to look like," Drabek said from his Texas home. "I think the Orioles are pretty much out."

Drabek's agent, Alan Hendricks, couldn't be reached to comment.

Drabek, who earned $1.8 million last season, said money won't motivate his decision. "I know it's not going to be what it has been. I realize that. But is it going to be worth being away from home for another eight months? I want to make sure I'm going to be into it.

"Physically, I feel good. I've been doing the normal stuff. I felt good throwing BP to my kid's team."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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