Palmeiro to O's: Wrap up Mussina

Agent, Angelos to meet

Ranger says delay will cost O's, like his did

March 18, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On the eve of talks between Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos and the agent for pending free-agent pitcher Mike Mussina, former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro suggested yesterday that Angelos use his failed negotiations as a cautionary tale for signing the franchise's signature pitcher to a contract extension before Opening Day.

Angelos and Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, are expected to meet today against the backdrop of the team's annual investors' meeting that carries a safari theme. Bagging a Moose is not listed on the schedule.

Angelos arrived in Fort Lauderdale yesterday and intends to stay the weekend. Whether today's meetings are productive could well determine if the club is able to end speculation about Mussina's future before the season.

"I know this for a fact: if Moose is a free agent he may end up getting $100 million," Palmeiro said after the Rangers' 13-8 exhibition win over the Orioles yesterday. "I think it's in their best interest for the Orioles to get [the extension] done as soon as possible. There's going to be a whole bunch of teams lining up for Mike. And that's for a lot of money.

"I know Mike wants to stay, just like I wanted to stay. But don't give him the opportunity to go out there and let some other big-market teams make it a competitive situation. You don't know what happens then."

Palmeiro refers to himself as proof.

Before spring training in 1998, Palmeiro suggested a five-year, $50 million offer would keep him in Baltimore. The club procrastinated, initially offering Palmeiro two years, before ultimately meeting his demand on Nov. 30. Palmeiro, however, contacted the Texas Rangers and accepted their five-year, $45 million offer, citing Texas' absence of state taxes, a desire to play near his suburban Dallas home and the Orioles' season-long hesitancy in negotiations.

"It should be instructive," said Palmeiro. "With me, I couldn't have been any clearer. It took all of nine months and a lot of phone calls and a lot of meetings and a lot of frustration, and then the opportunity came up for me to come to Texas.

"I had told them, `Don't let me be in that position. Don't let it come to that. Don't make me make that decision.' They did. So when everything falls into place [with Texas], what am I supposed to do?"

Palmeiro admits carrying a great deal of uncertainty through the '98 season when he batted .296 with 43 home runs and 121 RBIs. After voicing his parameters for a contract extension, he remembers being criticized while the club remained silent.

Recalled Palmeiro, who crafted the most productive five-year span in team history after arriving in 1994, "It didn't have to be that way."

Palmeiro classified Mussina as one of the league's top three pitchers, behind Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez and ahead of "a pitcher to be named."

"If you lose someone like Moose, it's hard to come by anyone like that again," said Palmeiro. Former Oriole "Kevin Brown was one. Imagine Kevin and Moose together. You can't lose Mike. You've got to tie him down and build around him. He's young enough."

Only 31, Mussina brings a 136-66 record into the season after finishing second to Martinez in last year's Cy Young Award balloting. Mussina's .673 winning percentage is the highest in history by a right-handed pitcher with at least 200 career decisions. The organizational product has won at least 14 games in each of his eight full seasons and remade himself in recent years to thrive within hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Now he enters a season in which his stated commitment to remain near his Montoursville, Pa., home may be tested as much as the club's willingness to extend itself to keep him.

"It's very important to get it done now, because it lingers," Palmeiro said. "The player thinks about it all the time. It's important, especially with a guy like Moose, who's one of the few true aces in the game.

"When you lose a guy like that, it's hard to come by one again. You can't lose Mike. He's young enough and good enough that you can build a good pitching staff around him. I'm not sure what their approach is. It just happens over and over again," Palmeiro said. "When you have a quality player and a quality person like that, you do everything you can to sign him."

Angelos made an opening five-year, $50 million bid to Mussina in early February. Tellem has since communicated a counteroffer believed to average more than $14 million for at least six years -- figures unprecedented in team history.

Tellem said yesterday he's not arriving to impose a deadline on talks. Mussina has said repeatedly he is "comfortable" with filing for free agency after the season.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity to have a cordial meeting with Peter. We're not twisting arms," Tellem said.

Referring to Brown's seven-year, $105 million signed in December 1998 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mussina said he does not intend to set the market for pitchers. He has insisted that he will not undersell himself as occurred in May 1997 when he agreed to a three-year, $20.45 million deal against the advice of his agent. Mussina says he will remain on the fringes of negotiations this time until Tellem feels a deal potentially close.

"He's not asking for everything," Palmeiro said. "Look where Kevin Brown is. Look where Pedro Martinez is."

Or, as Palmeiro reiterated, look where he is.

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