O's shop, don't buy as market reopens

Free agents available, but Beattie delays offers to likes of Guerrero, Sexson

November 11, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - The Orioles might be a team to watch on the free-agent market this year, but they sure didn't jump yesterday, when the market opened, the way the Philadelphia Phillies did last year.

As soon as the 2002 opening bell sounded, the Phillies made formal offers to Jim Thome, Tom Glavine and David Bell. Eventually, Philadelphia wound up signing Bell and Thome, whose six-year, $85 million contract was the biggest any player signed all offseason.

This year, the Orioles have strong interest in Montreal Expos right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, the most coveted player on the market, but so far, they're using a more conservative approach.

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said he has had conversations with both of Guerrero's agents, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz. But the Orioles have yet to make their first offer - to Guerrero or any player.

Beattie said he's not sure if they will make any offers this week.

"It just depends on the tenor of the conversations we have as we get into this a little bit further," Beattie said, after arriving at the Arizona Biltmore for the start of baseball's general manager meetings. "We've made contact as much as we could with [agents]. We said we'd be in touch. If we feel we've got to step up to make an offer, we're ready to do that, or at least talk about parameters anyway."

Beattie and Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan expect to be plenty busy this week, talking to agents as well as other teams about trades.

The GM meetings are usually the place where teams lay the groundwork for moves that come later in the offseason. The Phillies didn't sign Bell until two weeks after they made that first offer last year, and Thome signed a week after that.

With just four players under contract for $18 million next season, and permission from owner Peter Angelos to increase the payroll from last year's mark of $60 million, Beattie and Flanagan are on speed dial for all the teams looking to unload salary.

Some of the players who could reportedly be had include Boston's Manny Ramirez, Colorado's Todd Helton and Texas' Alex Rodriguez. But the dollar amounts are so eye-popping, there's some doubt any of them will get traded.

"We're not going to take bad contracts," Beattie said, not speaking of any specific players. "We're not interested in doing that unless it's a player who can help us. With players that can help us, we've had conversations with clubs, and we want to talk to them here."

The Milwaukee Brewers want to trim their payroll from $40 million to $30 million, which could force them to move first baseman Richie Sexson. The St. Louis Cardinals are desperate for pitching and need to free up some money to get it, so first baseman Tino Martinez and center fielder Jim Edmonds could probably be had.

If a trade gets made here in Phoenix, most industry insiders speculate it will be a team such as St. Louis unloading a player to get in better position to spend on the free-agent market.

Some high-profile agents - Scott Boras (who represents Ivan Rodriguez and Kevin Millwood), Jeff Moorad (Shannon Stewart), Bob LaMonte (Pat Hentgen) - have checked into the Biltmore to have face-to-face meetings with teams.

"They want to see how their market develops," Beattie said. "I think there's a lot of anxiety out there for some players, and I'm sure that going into the free-agent market, we're going to try to balance the idea of doing something too quickly with overspending.

"We have the flexibility to do something like that, and get a big free agent in here, but we want to kind of feel it out and see how the market develops.

"And that may be a tricky thing to do."

NOTE: Orioles All-Star Melvin Mora said he has no problem with the club's idea of possibly moving him to third base next season. Mora, who played six positions last year, including 56 games in left field, hasn't played third base since 2000, but he did play there in 1994, for the Houston Astros' Single-A club in Osceola. "[The Orioles] called me and told me, and everything is fine for me," Mora said. "I know they need [left fielder] Larry Bigbie's bat in the lineup. If it's good for the team, it's good for me."

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