O's are feeling heat in talks with Guerrero

Teams waiting to pounce with Orioles attempting to land free-agent slugger

`We're trying to move it along'

Club's standing offer of five years, $65M has been on table for weeks

January 07, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Just when it looked like the Orioles were the only ones who could afford Vladimir Guerrero, a host of teams are lining up, almost daring them to let the free-agent slugger slip through their hands.

The longer Guerrero goes without a contract, the more teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Florida Marlins and New York Mets seem to drool.

"We're trying to move it along as fast as we can, understanding that on the other side, Guerrero's people have goals, too," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said.

Asked if he sensed any other serious bidders for Guerrero's services, Beattie said, "You don't know. It's a very difficult thing to ascertain."

So while the Orioles press forward, trying to add Guerrero to a list of free-agent signings that includes Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez, other teams are keeping a watchful eye.

Yesterday, Mets general manager Jim Duquette told reporters in Port St. Lucie, Fla., that his team is still having discussions with Guerrero's agents.

"There hasn't been a ton of conversations," Duquette said, "but the conversations have been that he's well down the road on multiple-year deals -- five, six or seven years -- and that's just not a viable option for us at this point."

Duquette added: "My understanding is that [Guerrero] has two multi-year offers."

One of those is from the Orioles, who have had a standing five-year, $65 million offer on the table for weeks. A National League source said he thinks Guerrero also has a multi-year offer from the Dodgers, who are still desperate for offense after failing to trade for Nomar Garciaparra and Magglio Ordonez.

One Dodgers source continued to downplay his team's chances of landing Guerrero yesterday. He said the Dodgers have coveted Guerrero for months but are hesitant to offer him anything more than four years because of lingering concerns about his back.

A herniated disc in Guerrero's lower back sent him to the disabled list for 39 games last season. He returned in late July and played in 62 of the Montreal Expos' final 64 games, batting .353 with 17 home runs and 46 RBIs over that span.

Another industry source told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel yesterday that the Marlins feel like they're in a holding pattern waiting for the Orioles to move on Guerrero.

The Marlins can't afford to enter a bidding war with the Orioles, the source said, but if things go badly, Florida is ready to pounce. A year ago, the Marlins signed catcher Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year, $10 million deal after he turned down a three-year, $21 million offer from the Orioles.

Guerrero seems more intent on getting a long-term contract.

"There has been no indication from them that they'd be willing to accept a one-year deal," Duquette said.

There has been speculation that the San Francisco Giants, like the Marlins, are using a similar strategy with Guerrero, biding their time and waiting to swoop in late. With Barry Bonds moving closer to retirement, Guerrero could become the future face of their franchise, but the Giants have spent most of the offseason saying they are already over budget.

Still, six weeks from spring training, with the top free agent still on the market, it's hard for teams not to get enticed.

"Maybe it lulls us into false hope," Duquette said. "My organization's thinking, based on the reconnaissance that you do on the market, makes it unlikely [to sign Guerrero]. We're still monitoring it. That's probably the best way to describe it."

In other Orioles news:

Though no formal offers have been made, the Orioles are still working to re-sign starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, with vice president Mike Flanagan spearheading the negotiations.

"Mike and I have had several conversations during the past week," Ponson's agent, Barry Praver said, "and there appears to be mutual interest. But I would not want to handicap the outcome. I believe both the Orioles and Sidney would like to see this resolved one way or another in the next couple days."

Contract figures obtained by The Sun show that the Orioles signed right-handed reliever Mike DeJean to a one-year, $1.5 million option with incentives based on appearances and games finished that could pay him an additional $425,000. DeJean was not given an option for 2005.

Lopez was given a three-year, $22.5 million deal, with incentives that could pay him up to $1 million over the course of the contract. Part of those incentives include a weight clause, but not for $5 million as ESPN.com had reported. Lopez can earn up to $100,000 per year if he can keep below a yet-to-be-specified playing weight.

Tickets for Orioles spring training games will go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. The Orioles open their spring schedule on March 4 against the Marlins in Fort Lauderdale. For ticket information, call 954-776-1921.

This article contains information from Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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