Palmeiro ups ante on Orioles First baseman wants Vaughn-like package to stay, source says

O's top bidder for Ventura

Surhoff option offered

Benitez-Hundley near

November 29, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

While the Albert Belle watch continued through last night without the left fielder agreeing to terms, the Orioles apparently have learned that it will be more difficult to retain their first baseman.

In recent days the Orioles have raised their offer to Rafael Palmeiro to $45 million over five years, but a club source said yesterday the three-time All-Star has raised the bar. Rather than seeking $10 million annually, the source said Palmeiro wants "close to Mo Vaughn money" to remain in Baltimore. Vaughn became the highest-paid player in baseball Wednesday when he agreed to a six-year, $80 million contract with Anaheim that averages $13.33 million per season.

Palmeiro's demands are closer to $12 million a season, the source said, giving the appearance that he's waiting for Texas to make a hard offer. Palmeiro played for the Rangers from 1989 through 1993 and still makes his home in the Dallas area. But Texas isn't expected to show serious interest in Palmeiro unless it fails to sign free-agent left-hander Randy Johnson, who could make a decision by tomorrow or Tuesday.

Boston also reportedly has offered Palmeiro five years, but Rangers general manager Doug Melvin told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "That may be why he hasn't re-signed with Baltimore, because he's waiting to see what happens here."

Palmeiro was unavailable for comment last night.

The Orioles initially made a three-year offer to Palmeiro, then increased it to four years for $32 million. Last week, they upped it again to five years for $45 million, with $10 million deferred.

As club officials ponder what to do with Palmeiro, they continue to leave open the possibility of signing free-agent third baseman Robin Ventura and moving Cal Ripken to first. Manager Ray Miller has discussed that scenario with Ripken, who led all American League third basemen with a .979 fielding percentage this season. A major-league source said the Orioles have offered Ventura a deal that exceeds the four-year, $28 million package being dangled by the New York Mets.

"I've talked with his representatives. I'll just say that," said Orioles general manager Frank Wren.

The Orioles continue to hold discussions with B. J. Surhoff's agent, Gregg Clifton, and have made some revisions to their offer. But they still won't guarantee a fourth year. Instead, they've added a vesting option for the fourth year that would kick in if Surhoff starts 130 games and would bring the total package to $17 million. The deal, for $13.5 million over three years without the option, also includes a $1 million buyout.

Other changes in the club's proposal were moving the signing bonus to this January, rather than January of 2000, and reducing the deferred money by $250,000 per year.

Clifton said he didn't believe negotiations with the outfielder are being adversely affected by the club's interest in Belle. "I spoke with Frank Friday and he didn't even mention Albert Belle," Clifton said.

Surhoff will have lunch with Mets executives on Tuesday. His best offer remains the four-year deal from Pittsburgh worth slightly more than $16.5 million. Clifton said he'll call the Pirates tomorrow.

"We're going to ask them if they can wait until midweek. Hopefully we'll get something done by the end of this week," said Clifton, who spoke with Wren Friday and again last night.

"We're pleased by the movement, but B. J. still feels after what he did this past year [.279, 22 homers, 92 RBIs] and with a four-year offer out there, that he would like to have a four-year proposal from the team."

The Orioles also continue to have serious interest in right-hander Kevin Brown, who pitched for them in 1995. They've made an offer believed to be for five years and worth more than $11 million annually. Brown is seeking a six-year deal worth about $80 million. Colorado, San Diego and St. Louis are among the teams also negotiating with Brown's agent, Scott Boras.

The club also is close to acquiring catcher Todd Hundley from the Mets for reliever Armando Benitez, with an announcement coming perhaps as early as tomorrow. But the Orioles aren't comfortable with New York's demand that two prospects be included. The Mets have inquired about third baseman Ryan Minor.

Hundley's arrival would push Chris Hoiles out from behind the plate, and perhaps to more regular time at first base and designated hitter. Hoiles said he hasn't been contacted by anyone from the Orioles concerning his role.

"If they want to get a catcher, that's up to them," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, my numbers have pretty much spoken for themselves. If they think they might be able to find somebody to put in the lineup in place of me and take my numbers out of there, obviously they'll go get somebody. There's not a whole lot that I can do about it."

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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