O's wary of giving Guerrero big bucks

Team reluctant to pay any one player in market $15 million per season

November 12, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX -- The Orioles hope to be part of the Vladimir Guerrero sweepstakes this offseason, but team officials are privately expressing a reluctance to pay Guerrero, or any player, $15 million a year.

There's a feeling within the Orioles' organization that two players making $8 million apiece might improve their chances more than one player making $16 million.

Yesterday, club insiders said that's a position held from Orioles owner Peter Angelos on down through his top baseball people.

This figures to be a major sticking point, since Guerrero is considered the top player on the free-agent market. The Montreal Expos right fielder, 27, is a .323 career hitter and has hit 234 home runs.

The Orioles want him, but only at their price.

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said Guerrero is one of the Orioles' top three offseason targets, and he has spoken to Guerrero's agents, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz. But the Orioles haven't made an offer to any player.

In a break between sessions at the general managers' meetings yesterday, Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan said they are waiting for the market to set itself before diving in with offers. Neither would comment on how much they're willing to spend on particular players.

A year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jim Thome to the richest free-agent contract of the offseason -- a six-year deal with an average annual value of $14.2 million.

But it's hard drawing a comparison between Thome and Guerrero. Thome was 32 when he signed his deal, and his position (first base) is less demanding than right field.

Will the market continue its downward trend? Scott Boras doesn't think so. He's the agent for Alex Rodriguez, who signed the richest contract in baseball history three years ago with the Texas Rangers -- 10 years, $252 million.

"If A-Rod were in this market today," Boras said, "he'd get as much or more than he got three years ago."

Insiders say Angelos is still feeling gunshy because he has been burned by big contracts in the past. In 1998, he gave Albert Belle a five-year, $65 million deal, only to see Belle develop a degenerative hip condition. The Orioles finally got that one off the books last month.

Guerrero received an undisclosed offer from Montreal late in the season, and while there has been speculation it was for $15 million a season, Expos general manager Omar Minaya wouldn't confirm that.

The Orioles are exploring other options besides Guerrero. Yesterday afternoon, they met with the Milwaukee Brewers, who have said they need to trim their payroll from $40 million to $30 million.

The Brewers reportedly are trying to move first baseman Richie Sexson, who will make $8.6 million next year in his final season before free agency. The Orioles would love to add a power-hitting first baseman, but Flanagan wouldn't say if Sexson's name surfaced during the discussion.

"Today's meeting was more or less a chance to sit down and see how the two clubs match up," Flanagan said.

Beattie and Flanagan also met with Bob LaMonte, the agent for pitcher Pat Hentgen. After declining Hentgen's $4 million option last month, the Orioles are still hoping to sign him back.

Indians eye Hargrove

Former Orioles manager Mike Hargrove could be headed back to the Cleveland Indians. In today's editions of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Indians GM Mark Shapiro said he is exploring the idea of bringing Hargrove back in a special assistant's role.

Hargrove guided the Indians to five division titles and two World Series appearances in his 8 1/2 seasons as their manager.

"It's still in the exploratory stages, but we've talked several times," Shapiro said.

Allenson won't return

Gary Allenson, who managed Triple-A Ottawa to the International League playoffs in his first season, said he won't return in 2004.

Allenson is seeking a job in the majors as a manager or a coach. He's upset the Orioles didn't include him among the eight candidates for the managerial position that went to Lee Mazzilli. With the coaching staff invited back, Allenson had no chance of joining the team in that capacity.

"I've managed 10 years in the minor leagues and I've coached in the big league six years, and I'll put my resume up against just about anybody who's getting interviews these days," he said. "Nothing against Lee Mazzilli, but he's managed in the minor leagues for three years. He may be a hell of a manager, but for me to not even get an interview was disappointing."

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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