Orioles check swing, stop talks with Cruz

Improved offer refused

O's look beyond outfielder

January 25, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

One week after increasing their efforts to sign Jose Cruz Jr., the Orioles have ended negotiations with the free-agent outfielder and will look elsewhere for an offensive force in the middle of their lineup.

Cruz's agent, Alan Hendricks, rejected the Orioles' latest offer on Thursday, which fell between $2 million and $3 million for one year. Cruz, 28, made $3.95 million last season and was poised to receive a substantial raise until the Toronto Blue Jays declined to offer him arbitration.

When modifications to their original offer still weren't deemed sufficient by Hendricks, the Orioles broke off talks and focused more on acquiring a hitter through trade.

"We pushed our offer up to them to try to get something done, and we're just not going to leave it sitting there. Right now it's just a matter of the dollars not making sense for us, so we're getting out of the auction at this point," said Jim Beattie, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations.

"We moved our offer into a range we felt comfortable with. We tried to get it done, it didn't work, so we're backing away from it."

Cruz remains stuck in a group of free agents still trying to find work as the dates approach for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training. Hendricks said he has spoken with "numerous" teams about Cruz, who batted .245 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs, but so far the dollars haven't been to his liking. He was receptive to a one-year deal from the Orioles, but the sides couldn't agree on salary.

Beattie included an option year in one of his proposals, which also was rejected.

"I think it's fairly well-known what we are interested in, and if we see it, we'll have a deal," Hendricks said. "I've been doing this too long to get optimistic or pessimistic about any kind of deal. ... I have no expectations."

Unwilling to disclose many details of his negotiations with the Orioles, Hendricks added: "If [Beattie] calls, I'll talk to him. But I do not talk [with the media] about deals in progress. That's the greatest way in the world to kill them. There may be other agents who are more than willing to kiss and tell before they've even kissed. I don't do that. It's a policy that's served me well for 30-plus years and I'm going to continue to do that."

With the free-agent market no longer presenting many alternatives for the Orioles in their quest for a power hitter, club officials might have to wait until after the exhibition schedule begins in late February to bolster their lineup through a trade.

"Even if we don't do it now, I think we're going to be rewarded for our patience," Beattie said.

Because the Orioles have a surplus of players who fit the mold of first baseman and designated hitter, adding another one would be "the lowest on our list of possibilities," Beattie said. "Other than that, I'd say we're open.

"People are looking to move dollars," he added, "and some of them earn less dollars than what Cruz is asking for."

The breakdown in negotiations with Hendricks came one day after catcher Ivan Rodriguez slipped through the Orioles' grasp and signed with the Florida Marlins. Cliff Floyd also disappointed them by signing with the New York Mets, and Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui chose the New York Yankees.

The Mets would love to move outfielder Jeromy Burnitz, who will make $11.5 million this year, but the Orioles prefer to look elsewhere. A deal would be complicated by Burnitz's inclusion of them in his no-trade clause.

Another door apparently has closed on the Orioles, but they're not going to bang their heads against it.

"I think you'll find that I'm a pretty patient person," Beattie said. "In this market, having dollars to spend, if we find the right guy, is going to be a valuable commodity. We're getting too many calls from teams looking to move players making money. ... There are some very good possibilities, and I think clubs are going to get more aggressive in eating some of those dollars, even if they can save $1 million on a $5 million contract."

Beattie didn't discount the possibility that negotiations could start up again with Hendricks, saying he's "always open to that," but added that he's comfortable maintaining the financial flexibility going into spring training. He also indicated that the same offer won't be available to Cruz if the two sides renew talks.

Meanwhile, Hendricks still views the Orioles as a logical fit for Cruz, but he's also prepared to move ahead without them.

"He's familiar with the town, the ballpark, the division," Hendricks said. "There are a lot of things that would make a large degree of sense here, but we just haven't come to an agreeable number to date. Maybe we will and maybe we won't."

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