Gonzalez rejects O's for Texas

He gets 2 years, $24M as Thrift stands pat

January 09, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Billed only a day ago as serious players in the bidding for Juan Gonzalez, the Orioles apparently have lost out on the free-agent outfielder, who leaned in many directions before falling into the laps of the Texas Rangers late last night.

A source in Texas said the Rangers have reached agreement with Gonzalez on a two-year, $24 million contract. Agent Jeff Moorad, who flew to Puerto Rico to meet with the two-time Most Valuable Player, was negotiating with the Rangers last night and didn't return calls.

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, denied that the team had modified its offer by guaranteeing a third year or adding vesting options. He didn't dismiss the possibility of improving the two-year deal, but said he was waiting to hear from Moorad.

The news won't be good.

"We haven't done anything," Thrift said. Asked about implementing a third year into the proposed contract, Thrift said, "That's not true."

Thrift said he hasn't spoken to Moorad since Friday, when the Orioles joined the Rangers and New York Mets in the bidding. He remained in Sarasota, Fla., to monitor a conditioning camp.

Gonzalez initially had expressed a desire to sign with the Mets and be reunited with close friend Roberto Alomar. The Mets had refused to raise their offer of two years, $25 million.

The Rangers, who had Gonzalez in their lineup for 11 seasons before trading him to Detroit in November 1999, made a two-year offer for around $21 million on Saturday. The absence of a state income tax in Texas made their proposal comparable to the Mets' and apparently gave them the edge, especially since Gonzalez still has family there and never wanted to leave. Moorad sought a third guaranteed year, but a deal apparently was struck without it.

ESPN.com said the deal contains substantial deferred money but is still contingent on Gonzalez passing a physical.

Reports out of New York had the Mets exploring other avenues for a power-hitting outfielder, including a proposed trade with San Diego that would bring them Bubba Trammell. Texas was prepared to shift Gabe Kapler to right field after acquiring Carl Everett.

Gonzalez earned $10 million with the Cleveland Indians last season while batting .325 with 35 homers and 140 RBIs. League-wide concerns about his back diminished interest in him and made clubs reluctant to offer more than two guaranteed years this winter. Gonzalez, 32, reportedly has been working out with a personal trainer in Puerto Rico. He got through last season without incident after struggling with his health and the deep outfield fences at Detroit's Comerica Park in 2000.

The Orioles need more run production and hoped to make a splash in the free-agent market before Saturday's FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center. Their off-season has consisted of one signing, outfielder Marty Cordova, and one minor trade, with pitcher John Wasdin going to Philadelphia for reliever Chris Brock. Gonzalez represented the cleanup hitter that Thrift has labeled a priority since last season ended.

"I'm just waiting to see what happens," Thrift said last night.

Thrift has spoken to agents for outfielders Matt Stairs and Troy O'Leary while also pursuing a closer to displace rookie Willis Roberts.

"We're looking at closers, we're looking at outfielders, No. 4 hitters. There are only so many people who fit that criteria."

In Texas, Gonzalez joins a lineup that includes Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez. "You can't ever have enough offense, especially in the AL," Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, told ESPN.com.

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