Orioles wait for catchers to flash sign

Having made offers, team says it's up to Rodriguez or Lopez to accept now

`We're comfortable,' Beattie says

Ex-Marlin mulls over $7M, ex-Brave $6M a season

Tejada here for physical

December 17, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

If it appears that the Orioles are trying to decide which top-name free-agent catcher to sign to a multi-year contract, it actually may be the other way around.

The club has made offers to Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez and - at least for the moment - is waiting to see which one chooses to play in Baltimore.

Welcome to baseball's new economic reality, where it is now possible to paraphrase an age-old philosophical question: What is the sound of one team bidding?

"We've made very substantial offers to the guys we want," said Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Jim Beattie. "Unless there is an indication that there has been some major change in the market, we're comfortable with what we have offered."

The offer to Rodriguez reportedly is for three years at $7 million a year, with incentives that could make the deal worth close to $30 million. The bid for Lopez is believed to be three years at about $6 million a year plus incentives. Though the difference between the two offers would seem to indicate that the Orioles are leaning toward Rodriguez, club officials apparently are willing to sign whichever catcher steps up to the plate first and agrees to terms close to those already proposed.

So far, however, no one has blinked. Agent Scott Boras, who represents Rodriguez, said yesterday that negotiations with the Orioles have progressed well and continues to say that Rodriguez, 32, is not limited to one attractive situation. Lopez's agent, Chuck Berry, concedes that the Orioles have other options, but maintains that Lopez, 33, has other options, too.

No one denies that the Orioles are in an unusual position of strength. They agreed to terms with premier shortstop Miguel Tejada at the just-concluded winter meetings and will introduce him to the local media at a news conference today after he undergoes a physical examination. They still have enough money to sign free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and either Rodriguez or Lopez, depending on how the market evolves.

That combination of money and market control has left the agents with nothing to do but turn on the charm.

"What's impressive to me about the Orioles is that I sat down [at the winter meetings] with two solid baseball people in Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie and talked for seven hours," Boras said. "These are formidable baseball people. You always want to send players to a place where people understand players, make them comfortable and help them improve."

The Orioles have offered Rodriguez a deal similar to the one that they put in front of him a year ago, when he chose to sign for one year with the Florida Marlins. The Los Angeles Dodgers are the only other team known to be interested in signing Rodriguez to a multi-year deal, but they are preoccupied with the possibility of acquiring marquee shortstop Nomar Garciaparra from the Boston Red Sox.

Boras has said there are three other teams involved. He remains noncommittal about the direction Rodriguez might go, but he did not hesitate to identify the Orioles as a seemingly perfect fit for the 10-time Gold Glove winner who just helped lead the Marlins to the world title.

"There's no question that the Baltimore Orioles have a similar young pitching staff [to the Marlins]," Boras said, "and there's an element of compatibility. Pudge has a .332 career batting average at Camden Yards and has one of his best home run ratios there. That certainly puts Baltimore in contention."

Lopez is coming off a career year in which he batted .328 with 43 home runs and 109 RBIs - huge offensive numbers for a catcher - but the market for his services has been slow to develop. If he does not go for the Orioles' three-year offer, he might have to mirror Rodriguez's strategy of last winter and sign a one-year deal.

"They [the Orioles] obviously have options," Berry said. "At this point, they are talking to us and I'm comfortable with that. After our next conversation, that could change. Right now, they have other options, and so do we."

The Orioles also have other issues:

Boras said yesterday that the team has expressed some interest in another of his clients, first baseman Travis Lee, but club officials cautioned that any pursuit of Lee likely would be contingent on the outcome of other free-agent negotiations.

The Seattle Mariners have floated pitcher Freddy Garcia in trade talks with the Orioles, but the Orioles aren't likely to give anything up to get a player who is expected to be left untendered on Saturday.

Though the agents representing Tejada also represent Guerrero, Beattie said yesterday that he does not expect to engage in any Guerrero negotiations when they visit Camden Yards today to finalize Tejada's contract.

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