Belle voids ban on trades

His consent to alter contract clause leads to talks with 2 clubs

Deferred money obstacle

Boston, Yanks pursued slugger last winter

July 21, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Orioles right fielder Albert Belle has agreed to renounce the blanket no-trade clause within his five-year, $65 million contract, freeing the Orioles to engage at least two clubs in trade discussions regarding one of the game's most imposing offensive forces, according to an industry source.

Belle apparently consented to void the provision last month shortly after Orioles officials learned of a June 4 incident in which he allegedly made obscene gestures to fans seated in the bleachers. Club sources say Belle was not fined, but punitive action was taken. The Orioles have since circulated a list of six "untouchables" that did not include Belle's name. Belle's contract stipulated a total no-trade clause through 2001 and partial no-trade clauses for 2002-03.

Though the Orioles are discussing Belle with other clubs, they are downplaying the possibility of a pending trade.

"It would be very difficult to find a team able to assume that much contract at this stage of the season," said one club official.

Belle's contract calls for $3 million deferred each year. Typically, a club that signs a player to a long-term contract remains responsible for deferred money if the player is traded. However, the Orioles negotiated an exception last July when they traded outfielder Joe Carter to the San Francisco Giants. Trading Belle, however, would likely require the Orioles to assume the remaining $12 million in deferred money.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox expressed interest in Belle last winter before the Orioles outflanked both. Neither of the other clubs were willing to give Belle a complete no-trade clause.

The Yankees remain interested in obtaining left-field help, and the Red Sox have yet to find an offensive replacement for departed first baseman Mo Vaughn. Whether either would assume Belle's four remaining years in addition to the swirl of controversy following him is uncertain.

While details of the June 4 incident at Camden Yards only recently came to light, Belle was apparently approached weeks ago. White Sox manager Jerry Manuel recently told Chicago reporters that Belle notified him of his decision during the Orioles' four-game series at Comiskey Park last month. Belle played for the White Sox last season before exercising an out clause in his contract triggered when he slipped from among the game's four highest-paid players.

Manuel and Belle enjoyed an easy relationship, something Belle found difficult to walk away from when he signed with the Orioles last Dec. 1.

Conversely, Orioles manager Ray Miller and Belle have become more distant since a dugout blowup between the two in Florida on June 9. An organizational decision benched Belle in Atlanta two days later, ending the major leagues' longest consecutive-games streak. Belle's relationship with respected hitting coach Terry Crowley is also a distant one at best.

Though his offensive numbers are creditable -- .275 with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs after last night's two-run blast -- Belle has failed to live up to organizational and public expectations of a player who ranked as the game's top run producer from 1991 to 1998.

Belle's .480 slugging percentage is sixth best on the club among players with at least 200 plate appearances and includes only nine doubles one season after he pounded 48. He also is hitting .248 with runners in scoring position with nearly as many double plays (eight) as extra-base hits (11).

With last night's blow, Belle has hit at least 20 homers in nine straight seasons.

Met their match

The Mets being a thorn in the Orioles' side didn't stop with New York winning the 1969 World Series. They are 7-3 in interleague play against the Orioles the past three seasons:

1997 Site Score O's P of Rec.

8/29 CY 4-3 Rhodes

8/30 CY 6-13 Mathews

8/31 CY 1-4 Key

1998

6/22 CY 7-2 Mussina

6/23 CY 3-6 Rhodes

6/24 NY 3-6 Smith

6/25 NY 2-3 Benitez

1999

7/18 CY 6-8 Guzman

7/19 CY 1-4 Dotel

7/20 CY 4-1 Ponson

* O's runs listed first

Pub Date: 7/21/99

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