Orioles can't close deal for Marlins' Lee

Swap for first baseman falls through as team fails to get contract extension

Beattie: No trades are imminent

Orioles reluctant to sign players as `1-year rentals'

Baseball

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

A proposed trade with the Florida Marlins that would have put Derrek Lee in the Orioles' lineup next year apparently fell through yesterday when the club couldn't reach agreement on a contract extension with the Gold Glove first baseman.

Lee, 28, and his agent, Casey Close, met at the B&O warehouse with Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, but a deal wasn't finalized. A team source said the Marlins would have obtained lower-level prospects in return for Lee, who can become a free agent after next season.

Without discussing Lee, who earned $4.25 million this season and could receive up to $7 million in salary arbitration, Beattie said the Orioles don't have any trades "that are imminent."

Beattie indicated that the Orioles might wait until the winter meetings that begin Dec. 12 in New Orleans to complete any deals, but they would continue talking to free agents and their representatives.

"It's one of those situations that we really aren't commenting on. We can't," said Beattie, who leaves for Vermont tomorrow and won't return until early next week. "There's no deal or announcement. That's about all we can say."

The Orioles have been reluctant to acquire players for the short term, which led to free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez signing a one-year, $10 million contract with the Marlins last winter. The Orioles had tried to lock him up for three years at $21 million.

"As I've said all along, we're trying to get players who are going to be here for a couple years," Beattie said. "We don't want our main players, our key guys, to be one-year rentals. That was our holdup with Rodriguez and that's why we tried to do a multi-year deal. That's our approach."

With Lee Mazzilli in place as their new manager, the Orioles were attempting to take their first step toward giving him a stronger lineup and a better chance to win. They apparently were prepared to hold a late-afternoon news conference at the warehouse to introduce Lee to the media, but it never unfolded.

To reduce payroll after winning the World Series this year, the Marlins are trying to move Lee, who batted .271 with 31 doubles, 31 homers, 92 RBIs and a .508 slugging percentage. They most likely would choose not to tender him a contract, as the Orioles did with outfielder Chris Singleton last year, rather than go to arbitration.

The Marlins seemed on the verge of making their second trade with the Orioles in three months. They acquired Jeff Conine on Aug. 31 for pitching prospects Denny Bautista and Don Levinski, and he'll eventually replace Lee at first base next season.

Needing to boost their run production, the Orioles also have inquired about Milwaukee slugger Richie Sexson, but Lee comes at a cheaper price. They wouldn't have to part with an upper-level prospect or a major league player, and Lee provides better defense and base running. He had 21 steals and won a Gold Glove this year after committing five errors in 1,381 chances for a .996 fielding percentage.

The Orioles also believe that Lee, who's averaged 27 homers the past four seasons, would exhibit more power at Camden Yards than spacious Pro Player Stadium. Lee posted an .887 OPS (combined on-base and slugging percentages) on the road, compared to Sexson's .883.

Even if the Lee deal falls through - San Francisco, Arizona and Los Angeles are counted among his suitors - the Orioles remain a leading contender for free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

They also have interest in free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada while seeking a power-hitting presence in the middle of their lineup.

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