Orioles find Guerrero isn't in holiday rush to pick team

Flanagan calls his agents daily, but movement slow

January 03, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

In mid-November, Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan predicted that free-agent right fielder Vladimir Guerrero would be one of the last players to sign this winter, sensing baseball's usual offseason protocol would be turned on its ear.

Turns out, Flanagan was right.

Normally, the rest of the market waits to move until the top player signs his contract, with lesser players falling in line. This year, that hasn't been the case.

The Orioles have signed shortstop Miguel Tejada (six years, $72 million) and catcher Javy Lopez (three years, $22.5 million), and Guerrero could be the third jewel in their crown.

He turns 28 next month and has already hit 234 home runs to go with a .323 career batting average, but he entered the new year with few suitors lined up for his services.

Flanagan continued to have daily conversations with Guerrero's agents this week, working through another holiday, but little progress was made. Sources close to the talks say the Orioles still haven't increased their five-year, $65 million offer.

"We have talked a lot over the past couple days and could talk over the weekend," Flanagan said.

The sides have moved closer on how a potential deal would be structured, regarding the timing of the payments, which usually involves the signing bonus and any deferred payments.

For now, however, it doesn't sound like Guerrero will be signing anywhere until at least the middle of the month.

The Orioles have yet to sense any stiff competition for Guerrero's services.

His agents, Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz, have kept their side of the negotiations very private from the media.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who are desperate for offense and have so far failed in their efforts to trade for Nomar Garciaparra or Magglio Ordonez, could eventually enter the mix. But at last month's winter meetings, a Dodgers official said they were reluctant to offer Guerrero anything more than a four-year deal because a back injury last season limited him to 112 games.

The Florida Marlins have discussed a deal with Guerrero that would give him an out if the team can't get a new ballpark built in Miami. Other than that, it's been eerily quiet.

Guerrero turned down a five-year, $75 million offer from the Montreal Expos late in the season, probably thinking the market would bear more elsewhere. So far, that hasn't been the case.

With Orioles owner Peter Angelos on a trip with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Russia this week, and executive vice president Jim Beattie on a family vacation in British Columbia, Flanagan handled the Guerrero negotiations, along with the team's general legal counsel Russell Smouse.

Unable to persuade Guerrero to visit Baltimore, Flanagan and Beattie have discussed meeting with him in his native Dominican Republic, to help spur the negotiations.

"It's a possibility," Flanagan said of the potential Dominican trip. "But it's not on the docket for next week."

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