Exam clouds Sele signing

Specifics of physical unknown, but Orioles rethink $29M offer

January 10, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

An ambiguous medical report has delayed the Orioles' signing of free-agent pitcher Aaron Sele and may cause majority owner Peter Angelos to seek to modify the milestone four-year, $29 million deal agreed upon Thursday, a day before the right-hander underwent a team physical, according to club and industry sources.

The Orioles spent the weekend awaiting additional medical information about the 29-year-old right-hander. Because of the deal's timing and Sele's physical Friday, Angelos could not obtain the records needed to assuage his lingering concerns.

The Orioles' public relations staff prepared a release and was set to stage an afternoon news conference Friday when complications arose. Sele underwent a pair of exams conducted by team doctors, who then notified vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift and Angelos of their findings.

While the extent of their findings is unknown, concern apparently is great enough for Angelos to experience self-doubt about tentatively making Sele the highest-paid pitcher in franchise history.

Whatever issues Angelos is weighing did not affect Sele's two-year run with the Texas Rangers, in which he made 66 starts and missed one turn because of the flu. Last year, Sele was 18-9 with a 4.79 ERA in 205 innings covering 33 starts after pitching a career-high 212 2/3 innings in 1998.

Sele's history does not include arm surgery, though industry sources say he has previously undergone a magnetic resonance imaging. The Orioles also have reviewed records provided by noted orthopedic doctor James Andrews.

One club official downplayed the issue last night by describing the holdup as more "a matter of timing" than a potential deal-breaker.

However, this wouldn't be the first time Angelos has reconsidered a signing. He agreed in principle on a deal with free-agent first baseman Will Clark in 1993 before a negative medical recommendation led him to backtrack after a dinner with Clark's agent. The Orioles instead signed Rafael Palmeiro. (Despite his history of elbow problems, the Orioles signed Clark to a two-year, $11 million deal last winter. Clark underwent season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from the elbow last Aug. 26.)

Coupled with the report issued by Orioles doctors, tendinitis that Sele experienced while with the Boston Red Sox in 1995 represents a possible concern to Angelos. Sele started only six games for the Red Sox that season before going on an abortive rehabilitation assignment and eventually landing on the 60-day disabled list. Sele landed on the disabled list again in 1996.

Executive vice president John Angelos did not return calls about the matter.

The Orioles find themselves in a ticklish situation should Angelos try to reopen the deal. Since Sele and the Orioles agreed to terms, free-agent pitchers Andy Benes and Juan Guzman have signed with the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, further depleting an already thin marketplace. Further delay could again leave the club without a fifth starter and may invite a grievance.

"I have no comment about anything right now," Sele's agent, Adam Katz, said last night.

The Orioles' signing of free-agent reliever Xavier Hernandez for $2.75 million last winter became a precedent-setting case within the industry when a subsequent physical discovered a tear of the pitcher's rotator cuff. Having already placed Hernandez on their 40-man roster, the Orioles renounced the deal, citing Hernandez's pre-existing condition. Hernandez filed a grievance, using the club's announcement and subsequent roster move as proof of the deal's completion.

The club settled the case rather than risk an arbitrator's ruling and will pay Hernandez $1.75 million through 2001. The incident also became a permanent blemish on general manager Frank Wren, fired last October and seeking arbitration to force Angelos to pay the balance of his contract.

Fallout from the Hernandez debacle led teams to institute a policy prohibiting announcement of any free-agent signing until a player passes a physical.

Team officials see important differences in the Hernandez and Sele cases. Sele apparently accepted an offer sheet whereas Hernandez signed a contract that was filed with the players association and Major League Baseball. Also, the club has never officially announced the Sele move.

Hernandez, however, also had a history of rotator cuff problems and had undergone surgery two years before signing with the Orioles.

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