Mussina is resigned to free agency

At contract impasse, ace to stay through season, then file

Midyear move ruled out

`I'll be here the next 2 months. I know that'

July 26, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

With negotiations regarding a contract extension stagnated, Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina says he is resigned to filing for free agency after this season while reiterating his refusal to approve any trade before Monday's 4 p.m. waiver deadline.

Mussina said there is "absolutely no way" he will pitch elsewhere this season even as the Orioles, saddled with the American League's second-worst record, intensify efforts to reshape themselves in the next five days. The Orioles haven't budged from their five-year, $60 million offer made in February, leaving Mussina to accept the inevitability of free agency.

"I'll be here the next two months. I know that much," said Mussina, 31. "Then, depending on what they want to do, I'll be back or I won't. But nothing's going to happen before then."

Teams inquiring about Mussina's availability have been told about his hard-line stance, which also includes a refusal to consider signing an extension with a prospective new club before approving a deal. While Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift works frantically to find an acceptable deal for any of numerous veterans before Monday's deadline, Mussina could bring the package of high-ceiling prospects the club has so far been unable to secure.

As part of the three-year, $20.45 million extension Mussina signed in May 1997, he received blanket veto power over trades. Mussina has said since May that he would not relinquish the leverage if the club was unable to sign him to an extension by July 31.

Even the lure of moving to a playoff contender does not budge Mussina, a resident of Montoursville, Pa., who does not savor the prospect of making two moves within several months if he were traded then signed elsewhere as a free agent.

"To me, there's not a great deal of satisfaction in going somewhere for two months to help some other team win. Those are the guys who have done the work. You're not really part of it," Mussina said. "I don't find the concept especially tempting. ... You change teams. Say you get a [World Series] ring out of it. Then almost immediately you turn around and prepare yourself to change teams again with all the problems that go along with it."

A rival general manager with interest in Mussina yesterday classified the pitcher's stance as "sticking it to" majority owner Peter Angelos for dragging his feet on negotiations.

Mussina's season remains one of frustration and contradictions. He leads the American League in innings pitched, is second in strikeouts behind only Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez and ranks seventh in earned run average. Yet he takes his next turn Friday night with a 6-10 record that leaves him one loss shy of his career high. The Orioles have scored more than four runs in only five of Mussina's 22 starts, and his 3.1 average run support ranks last in the league.

Mussina gives no credence to speculation that his unresolved negotiations have affected his performance. Citing a 3.86 ERA that is only 0.36 higher than his career and 1999 number along with the consistency necessary to accumulate 158 2/3 innings, Mussina says he is comfortable with his numbers if not what threatens to become the first losing campaign of his nine full major-league seasons.

"I'm still going out and doing my job," he said. "You don't pitch the innings I've pitched without doing something right. The numbers I can control - innings, ERA, those kinds of things - are where they should be. The only thing as a pitcher you can't control is record. With a couple exceptions, we haven't scored runs when I've pitched. There's nothing I can do about that."

Reached yesterday on vacation, Arn Tellem, Mussina's agent, said he also sees little chance for a resolution before the free-agent filing period. Occasional conversations with Angelos have accomplished little except suggest the club's entrenched position.

"Mike still wants to remain in Baltimore and hopes that can happen," Tellem said. "Right now, Mike's planning on filing for free agency, then we'll see what happens."

Talks between the parties remain cordial, though neither side has budged since February when Angelos upgraded the club's initial five-year, $50 million offer. Sources close to the talks say Tellem has never countered Angelos' offer because of the gulf still separating the parties.

Mussina is believed to be seeking a six-year deal worth about $84 million, which would easily eclipse Albert Belle's five-year, $65 million deal as the richest in franchise history. Mussina, the runner-up in AL Cy Young balloting last season, looms as the most attractive free-agent pitcher on this winter's market.

The Orioles' last offer included $10 million deferred at no interest. Mussina apparently is seeking a deal with no deferred money.

Mussina's desire for a sixth guaranteed year is something the Orioles have never granted any player, much less a pitcher.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Yankees' Dwight Gooden (4-3, 5.26) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (5-6, 5.46)

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