Beattie still an unknown quantity on spending

December 10, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

IT'S EITHER good or not so good that three days before they depart for baseball's winter meetings, the Orioles' dual GMs had time for a two-hour lunch with people like me.

We like feeling in the loop, almost as much as we like blockbuster trades or trophy hires of cleanup hitters.

Anyway, the crab soup was excellent. Just ask Jim Beattie. He was served a bowl that could have doubled as a birdbath. Let's just hope that's not an omen for the Orioles as they embark on this eagerly anticipated free-agent shopping expedition.

"Is that all you people do is comment on what other people eat?" Beattie asked the band of heckling reporters at his table.

Why, no. We also comment on what other people do, which, in the case of the Orioles this offseason, is nothing - so far.

"We're excited about the possibilities. We've got to do something. We have some great options out there. I think we can improve the club," Beattie said.

A better barometer of what's ahead? Asked how the Orioles could afford to keep their highest-paid player, David Segui, on the bench, Beattie deadpanned: "He won't be the highest-paid player anymore."

There's a lot more to know about Jim Beattie than the fact that, as a Yankees pitcher in 1979, he gave up Carl Yastrzemski's 3,000th hit. Or that, as Montreal's general manager for seven years, he had the dubious job of dealing away many of the Expos' biggest stars.

Is there any irony that Beattie is set to woo ex-Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero with one of this winter's richest contract offers?

After all those years shedding payroll in Canada, does Beattie even have the muscles and reflexes necessary to actually know how to part with cash - even when it's Peter Angelos' cash and Angelos is telling Beattie to spend, please?

"Is he too cautious? There have been observations that he has been, but I don't think so. I think you have to wait until after the meetings," Angelos said.

With those meetings beginning Friday in New Orleans, something says it's time for Beattie and Baltimore to form a more intimate relationship. It's only right, considering that Beattie, along with Mike Flanagan, has been charged with spending upward of $40 million to turn around the Orioles.

Truth be told, there's been at least a whiff of concern about Beattie's willingness to ooze the proper schmooze toward coveted free agents.

Parting shots Sidney Ponson issued about Beattie upon Ponson's trade from the Orioles to San Francisco last summer were obviously taken with a deer lick of salt.

That was just Sidney being Sidney as the Aruban knight ranted about Beattie's "lowball" offer and the Orioles GM's inscrutable, impersonal negotiating style.

Beattie, a Maine native with an Ivy League education from Dartmouth, exudes the classic New Englander's taciturn demeanor, except that "exudes" is probably too expressive a term.

No wonder they call New Hampshire the Granite State.

Flanagan hails from the Granite State, too. But while Flanagan has been known to cackle about the not-so-flamboyant personalities he and Beattie share, there is a difference between the two New Englanders.

After so many years pitching, coaching, broadcasting and advocating for the Orioles, Flanagan is a familiar figure whose humor, lack of ego, compassion and smarts make him easily liked and understood. By now, he's a known quantity.

When Angelos refers to Flanagan in conversation, he calls him "Mike." However, when Angelos refers to Beattie, he calls him "Beattie."

Likewise, baseball people who have known Beattie for years find his sense of humor so dry, it's difficult to tell whether or not he's joking.

Yesterday, Beattie said he and Flanagan have been itching to hop on planes to the Dominican Republic, California and anywhere else free-agent power hitters might be chilling.

"We're further along than just window shopping now," Beattie said.

Instead, agents for the Orioles' top targets have thrown up the yellow caution flags, telling Beattie and Flanagan to wait until New Orleans.

"There are a number of agents out there trying to build the market. They plant rumors. That's what we play against. After a while, you get a sense of who's telling you the truth," Beattie said.

That left Beattie and Flanagan to hang out in Baltimore this week, waiting for action in The Big Easy, and eat crab soup with the local media.

Asked if the Orioles could begin to compete with the Red Sox and Yankees, Beattie showed the same poker face he must show at the negotiating table, unwilling to concede anything.

"Things can happen to make it our year," he said.

"Pedro could wind up getting hurt. He wound up staying healthy last year but he has a history there. Curt Schilling at first talked about not going to Boston, saying, `I'm a fly ball pitcher.' What if Jason Giambi does not come back? What if Javier Vazquez takes a year or two to adjust to the American League?" he said.

"None of these things are likely to happen ... but no matter what you do, you have to push your team to win next year."

He said the Orioles would consider a six-year deal, under the right circumstances. He said he'll be patient but aggressive, just like a hitter.

"But sometimes you have to sit there and say no. This is the end," he said.

"If I'm going to pay anyone over $10 million, why is there a request for a $50,000 bonus for making the All-Star team? You should pay me $50,000 if you don't make the All-Star team. It comes down to where the line gets drawn. If you [the agent] have a better offer, show me. You're not lying to me, so I don't know why they'd be afraid to show me the offer," he said.

At the moment, Jim Beattie does not feel Peter Angelos' money burning a hole in his pocket. Then again, how would we really know?

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