O's don't budge on Gonzalez

Rangers, free agent said to be near deal

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

An Orioles official denied last night that the club modified its initial offer to Juan Gonzalez, and the free-agent outfielder apparently was close to signing with the Texas Rangers, according to a source with the organization.

Jeff Moorad, who represents Gonzalez, was negotiating last night with the Rangers and appeared on the verge of reaching an agreement. Moorad had flown to Puerto Rico to meet with the two-time Most Valuable Player and didn't return calls.

Syd Thrift the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, said the team hadn't upgraded its offer by guaranteeing a third year or adding vesting options. He didn't dismiss the possibility of making improvements to the two-year deal, which included a club option for 2004 and reportedly was heavy in incentives, but said he was waiting to hear from Moorad.

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

Thrift said he hasn't spoken to Moorad since Friday, when the Orioles joined the Rangers and New York Mets as possible suitors for Gonzalez.

Gonzalez initially had expressed a desire to sign with the Mets and be reunited with close friend Roberto Alomar. As of yesterday, the Mets had refused to raise their offer of two years, $25 million but perhaps were agreeable to making the option year of the deal obtainable for Gonzalez based on the number of games played.

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. Gonzalez has family in Texas, along with a supporter in Rangers short-stop Alex Rodriguez.

While the Orioles seemed content to hold their cards, the other clubs had grown impatient and were pressing for a decision by last night. 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. The Rangers were prepared to shift Gabe Kapler to right field after acquiring Carl Everett from Boston to play center.

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 this winter. Gonzalez 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 Detroit's spacious Comerica Park in 2000.

The Orioles need more run production from their lineup 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 the Philadelphia Phillies 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. "[Moorad] told us he was going to inform his client. I haven't heard a word since."

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"

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