Sele throws curve, joins Mariners

Unwilling to rework O's deal, pitcher takes Seattle's 2 years, $15M

Physical concerned Angelos

Gillick, others said 18-game victor healthy

January 11, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Free-agent pitcher Aaron Sele last night rejected a demand by Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos to rework the club's four-year, $29 million offer and abruptly signed a two-year, $15 million deal with the Seattle Mariners.

The move stunned club officials, who on Friday thought the 18-game winner with the Texas Rangers had been secured as the final piece to the Orioles' rotation.

Sele had arrived in Baltimore on Thursday night and underwent a two-part physical performed by team doctors on Friday. Though no structural damage could be found, according to a club source, team doctors could not assure Angelos that Sele's arm would hold up under the strain of four years and 800-plus innings.

Angelos then postponed a news conference set for Friday afternoon. A flurry of phone calls then ensued among vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift, Angelos and other club officials. With no announcement, Sele boarded a return flight home Friday night.

Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, a former GM for Angelos, began talks yesterday and quickly completed negotiations to get Sele, who lives in Kirkland, Wash., and went to Washington State.

"We're satisfied Sele is as healthy as he was when he finished the season with the Rangers," Gillick said last night. "He underwent a physical on behalf of us with another physician, and our physician talked with that doctor and is satisfied."

The new contract calls for a $1 million signing bonus and annual salaries of $7 million, with none of the money deferred. The Orioles' deal contained $8 million deferred without interest.

According to one of Sele's agents, Tom Reich, there was a difference on interpretation with the Orioles on medical tests. Sele has never undergone arm surgery but was limited to six starts in 1995 because of shoulder tendinitis.

"The dealings with Baltimore were very cordial from beginning to end and just didn't work out," Reich said. "To me, Peter Angelos is a good guy."

Neither Angelos nor his son, executive vice president John Angelos, returned phone calls on the matter. Thrift was on the Eastern Shore last night and could not be reached for comment.

The stunning reversal occurred as officials from other organizations interested in Sele insisted they saw little reason for concern over the right-hander's health.

Sele, 29, exhibited no signs of wear while compiling an 18-9 record, 4.79 ERA and 205 innings last season during the Rangers' AL West title run. Part of his appeal to the Rangers was his ability to construct back-to-back 200-inning seasons after he was acquired from Boston in a five-player deal in November 1997. Sele never had pitched more than 157 1/3 innings in four major-league seasons before his arrival in Arlington, but he missed only one start -- due to the flu -- with the Rangers.

Rangers general manager Doug Melvin said yesterday that "I don't see any reason why he would be hurt" and cited the club's four-year, $28 million offer to retain him as evidence of his conviction. "He was there every time for us the last two years," said Melvin at a developmental conference in Lansdowne, Va.

An industry source confirmed yesterday that the Rangers made available Sele's medical records to the Orioles prior to his signing. Unwilling to wait on Sele at the risk of ending up with nothing, the Rangers had withdrawn their four-year offer last month and instead pursued left-hander Kenny Rogers, who accepted their three-year, $22.5 million offer.

Melvin added that had Sele accepted the Rangers' offer the club would have stipulated he undergo a physical as a condition of signing, just as the Orioles did.

"When you do any of these deals you have to undergo a physical," said Melvin.

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who actually made the most lucrative offer (four years, $30 million) to Sele, were the last team standing in the way of the Orioles signing the pitcher last week. General manager Chuck LaMar said that Sele did not undergo a physical for his club but would not say whether he reviewed medical reports sent by the Rangers.

Another Devil Rays official confirmed that those reports were scrutinized and no cause for concern was discovered. Deprived of Sele, the Devil Rays subsequently signed former Orioles pitcher Juan Guzman to a two-year, $12.5 million contract.

"With every free agent, including Juan Guzman, we put in the contract that he has to undergo a complete physical. If questions arise, then you have to make a decision at that time," LaMar said yesterday. "As far as Aaron Sele is concerned, I'm not going to comment. To my knowledge he's a signed player and remains property of the Orioles."

The Orioles were prepared last Friday to issue a press release heralding Sele's acceptance of their deal, which would have represented a record $7.25 annual salary for an Orioles pitcher.

A Sele agent, Adam Katz, could have had his client undergo an independent physical to ease Angelos' concerns. Katz refused comment yesterday.

The Orioles now will find a diminished marketplace. Kenny Rogers, Guzman and Omar Olivares have signed elsewhere since the Orioles initially pursued Sele. Left-hander Darren Oliver and Steve Trachsel are the most attractive free-agent pitchers still unsigned.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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