Rebuffed O's urge fans to be patient

Beattie gathers media, says club not frustrated by slow free-agent pace

`Next week, I'd expect ... activity'

Likes of Guerrero put off teams till winter meetings

December 10, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles had their way, free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero would have been sitting inside the B&O warehouse yesterday, admiring the view of the snow-covered field at Camden Yards.

Maybe they would have stitched up an Orioles jersey, featuring Guerrero's name and No. 27, just to let him ponder the possibilities. It could have been like a college recruiting visit.

Still sitting empty-handed on the free-agent front three days before the winter meetings, Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan said things didn't have to be this way.

By now, they had hoped for a little face time with Guerrero, and some of their other top free-agent targets. They probably would have even flown to Guerrero's home in the Dominican Republic, if he had asked.

"The agents have pushed us away because they don't want to do that at this point," Beattie said, not speaking specifically of any player. "We've tried to ask them why, and they kept saying, `Let's use this week and the winter meetings to get a contract, and then take care of more of the face-to-face things after the winter meetings.'"

Baseball's transaction wire continues to hum, and the Orioles - a team expected to make a lot of noise this offseason because of all the money they have to spend - have been silent.

Without Guerrero or another top star to entertain, Beattie and Flanagan invited the local media to the warehouse for a briefing yesterday, explaining why things are still moving slow and insisting frustration has not set in.

"The moves have been primarily trades," Beattie said. "If we felt like the [free agents] who have signed were players that were priorities for us, it might have been a little bit different. But we don't feel like players have been taken away from us."

The Orioles have had ongoing discussions with the agents for Guerrero, Javy Lopez and Miguel Tejada, among others, and those discussions figure to heat up at the winter meetings Friday in New Orleans.

But the fan base had best remain patient.

Beattie said he didn't expect to return from the winter meetings with a free-agent deal in place.

"This week, we've been continuing conversations," he said. "And those are conversations, not window shopping. When we get to New Orleans, I think it will be time for people to figure out which partners are the best for us now. And next week, I would expect there to be some activity."

From what the Orioles have gathered, Guerrero and Lopez have yet to receive an offer from any team. And, judging from reports, those players haven't met with anyone else face-to-face.

Lopez's agent, Chuck Berry, and the agents who represent both Guerrero and Tejada - Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz - did not return phone messages for this article.

Flanagan spoke yesterday with Scott Boras, the agent for Ivan Rodriguez, but Lopez remains the Orioles' primary target among free-agent catchers.

Beattie cautioned that his club might not have as much money to spend as most people think. There have been reports that they have about $35 million in commitments for next year (counting arbitration-eligible players) and can lift the payroll to $75 million, giving them $40 million to spend.

"Those aren't the same numbers that I'm working with," Beattie said. "We don't have $40 million to spend, and that's probably as specific as I would say.

"We're still looking to build the payroll. I don't think we'll jump right up there for this coming year.

"We're coming off six years of less-than-stellar performance, both on the field and financially, so we've got to get ourselves back into a situation where we build the revenues to support this. And, obviously, we've got to make the first step to get fans excited about all that, so we're ready to do that.

"We'll have a payroll that allows us to get players in this year, and then build the payroll up in coming years as the club improves."

On paper, the Orioles' task has only gotten tougher in the American League East, where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox seem to be in an all-out war of one-upmanship.

Yesterday, there were reports that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had ordered his baseball people to contact Guerrero's agents because the deal for free-agent slugger Gary Sheffield had fallen apart.

Beattie and Flanagan were unfazed.

"I don't feel like we have to make a splash," Beattie said. "I think our actions will show the fans that this club will be better. I think there'll be exciting [moves], whether it's adding that front-tier free agent, or whatever else we may do. Altogether, at the end of the day, I think there will be a feeling that this is a much-improved ballclub.

"I just don't see how it could be any other way, given the opportunities that we have."

Garciaparra unlikely Oriole

Like many teams, the Orioles have had internal discussions about trading for Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra since reports first surfaced that the Red Sox were serious about acquiring Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez for Manny Ramirez.

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