Tejada in tow, Orioles wait on other offers

Feeling in control, O's confident $145M Guerrero, catchers will drop prices

Players `are biding their time'

Beattie, Flanagan leave aglow over new shortstop

December 16, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Steeped in confidence about their commanding position in a depressed free-agent market, the Orioles trudged forward yesterday, refusing to let their euphoria over signing Miguel Tejada turn this into a spending frenzy.

For now, Orioles officials privately say that the asking prices for Vladimir Guerrero, Javy Lopez and Ivan Rodriguez are too high.

Two major league sources said Guerrero's initial proposal to the Orioles was for eight years, $145 million. An Orioles official said he started crunching the numbers - $18.1 million a year - and winced.

So the Orioles steered the attention of Guerrero's agents toward Tejada, their other big client, and by Sunday afternoon the sides had agreed to a six-year, $72 million deal.

It was baseball's biggest move of these winter meetings, and Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan were still basking in the glow as they checked out of the New Orleans Marriott.

The hotel lobby was filled with baseball types anticipating another Orioles move. Reporters looked like Joe Horn after a touchdown catch, with the cell phones pressed against their ears.

But everyone had to wait.

"We'll continue the discussions when we get back to Baltimore," Flanagan said.

The next move could happen quickly and it will likely involve a catcher, but one major league source said Lopez is still asking for a three-year, $24 million deal, and Rodriguez is looking for four years, $36 million, with an option for a fifth year.

The Orioles have made offers to Guerrero (believed to be for five years, $65 million), Lopez (three years, $18 million) and Rodriguez (three years, $21 million). But with few apparent suitors banging down these players' doors, the Orioles are in no hurry to budge.

"Most of the other clubs have interest in other free agents," Beattie said.

"It's not like they're all just dying to get signed. The people we're talking with are biding their time, so if there are other offers out there that are keeping them from signing with us, so be it."

The Florida Marlins tried getting Guerrero to consider a contract similar to the one they recently gave Mike Lowell - a long-term deal that includes an out for the player if the team can't persuade voters to help build it a new ballpark. Guerrero's agents told the Marlins to try again.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are trying to trade for Chicago White Sox right fielder Magglio Ordonez, have privately expressed concerns about Guerrero's back injuries, saying they would not offer him a six-year deal.

Desperate to bolster their offense, the Dodgers also could make a push for Rodriguez, though that would force them to trade catcher Paul LoDuca.

And teams such as the Chicago Cubs have been lurking in the wings, suggesting they may ultimately make a run at these free agents if the prices hit rock-bottom.

It's a buyer's dream, and the Orioles seem to be the only team in baseball left with spending money. The calendar could work in their favor.

"I still think players want to get signed by Christmas," Beattie said. "They don't want to have to think about their job over the holidays."

The Tejada signing filled the Orioles with sincere hope of pulling a marquee free-agent trifecta, with most club officials still predicting Tejada, Guerrero and Lopez as the three. One agent who spoke with the Orioles after the Tejada signing said, "They're really going to go for it."

On the trade front, the meetings were slow-going for the Orioles. When Tejada came aboard, they scrapped their plans to use Brian Roberts at shortstop with Jerry Hairston at second base.

Now, one of them will probably get traded, though Beattie says the Orioles don't have to do that. The Boston Red Sox have already inquired about Roberts, but major league sources say that won't happen because the Orioles don't want to trade within their division.

Hairston missed 3 1/2 months with a broken foot last season, and Beattie said the injury has yet to fully heal. Hairston recently had a magnetic resonance imaging exam, and he's been modifying his offseason workout program.

"You want to give yourself a safety net," Beattie said. "Hairston was OK at the end of the year, but his foot's been bothering him a little bit. So there's nothing wrong with going into spring training and letting them fight it out."

Beattie also said that Hairston and Roberts could both serve as utility players, with one starting alongside Tejada, and the other on the bench.

"If we feel we need to do something in spring training, we can see what happens with other clubs," Beattie said. "We could wait until then. It's not like there's pressure on us to do that."

NOTES: The Orioles have yet to make an offer to Sidney Ponson, but Beattie said the team is continuing to explore starting pitching options. There may be more urgency than the Orioles have suggested. Last year's Opening Day starter, Rodrigo Lopez, has been struggling mightily in the Mexican Winter League.

Entering yesterday, he was 1-4 with a 6.39 ERA in five games for the Culiacan Tomato Growers. He had given up 31 hits and 15 walks in 25 1/3 innings, and opponents were batting .310 against him.

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