ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With starting pitching their priority, the Orioles will today formally tender a three-year offer worth at least $20 million to free-agent left-hander Chuck Finley, according to team and industry sources, and appear willing to include left fielder B. J. Surhoff and catcher Charles Johnson in trade discussions with at least two National League clubs.
The offer to Finley establishes the Orioles as a contender for one of the market's most attractive free-agent pitchers, along with the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and possibly the Boston Red Sox.
The Mariners and Indians have made offers similar to the Orioles', which is believed worth between $6.7 million and $7.7 million a season and will be faxed to Finley's agent, Tim Shannon. Director of player personnel Syd Thrift is handling the talks and anticipates another meeting today with Shannon.
Thrift and Shannon have had "constant conversations" the past several days, according to Thrift, and the Orioles hope to extend their newfound moment through the winter meetings.
Asked whether he feels the Orioles are receiving serious consideration by Finley, 37, a 12-game winner last season with the last-place Anaheim Angels, Thrift said: "I can only guess, but I can say yes. All I can go on is what I'm told."
Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette said yesterday that his club has yet to make an offer; however, the Orioles' AL East rival is expected to do so today.
Finley is believed to prefer staying out West, where he has spent his entire career with the Angels. Such a bias would represent an obvious advantage for the Mariners. However, Thrift said a meeting with Finley and Shannon during the general managers' meetings in Laguna Niguel two months ago left a different impression.
"When I talked to him personally his No. 1 concern was to be on the winning team. Baltimore was very acceptable to him," Thrift said. "I don't concern myself so much with competition as much as what we're trying to do."
Thrift ruled out the Orioles beginning the 2000 season with their current projected rotation.
"I'm proceeding with that conviction" of finding another starter, Thrift said. "Given that we're looking for one, we want to make sure we prioritize what we do."
Thrift, executive vice president John Angelos and chairman's representative Louis Angelos met with New York Mets officials, including general manager Steve Phillips, last night. The Orioles are especially intrigued by Octavio Dotel, a 23-year-old right-hander who went 8-3 with a 5.38 ERA last season as a rookie. Dotel struck out 85 in 85 1/3 innings and started 14 of his 19 appearances.
Johnson is a target of the San Francisco Giants, who can dangle starting pitchers Shawn Estes, a left-hander, and Joe Nathan. Estes, 26, won 11 games last season while pitching 203 innings. Nathan, 25, split his season between San Francisco, Triple-A Fresno and Double-A Shreveport and is considered the Giants' top near-term pitching prospect.
Estes is arbitration-eligible; Nathan has crammed 19 major-league appearances, including 14 starts, into 93 days of service.
Johnson's status remains one of the toughest questions facing the club. A free agent after the 2000 season, Johnson is represented by agent Scott Boras, considered a black hat by ownership. After acquiring Johnson from the Los Angeles Dodgers through the Mets in a three-team deal before last season, the Orioles beat Johnson in arbitration. Johnson answered with a solid season, batting .251 with 16 home runs and 54 RBIs while providing the Orioles their first defensive deterrent at the position in years.
Thrift said he and Boras discussed Johnson yesterday but haven't exchanged parameters for a new contract.
Adamantly opposed to parting with organizational gem Matt Riley, Thrift would not rule out dealing young arms for an established pitcher. The Orioles have had discussions with the Kansas City Royals regarding lefty Jose Rosado.
"We have a lot of highly desirable pitchers at the A level," Thrift said. "We have outstanding talent, and everybody knows that."
The Orioles haven't limited their free-agent search to Finley. Thrift confirmed that he has spoken with the agent for Hideo Nomo, whom the Orioles considered signing in 1998 before health concerns caused Peter Angelos to scotch negotiations. Nomo later had arm surgery, and in '99 went 12-8 with a 4.54 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Orioles have reached agreement in principle with free-agent catcher Greg Myers and outfielder Jeff Conine. Thrift downplayed the possibility of any official announcements before Wednesday, but another source familiar with Conine's situation said the deal could be completed before Tuesday. Conine, who earned $1.95 million last season, will receive two years guaranteed plus a vesting option for 2002. Myers has undergone a team physical. Results are pending.