Guerrero rejects O's, agrees to Angels deal

Free-agent right fielder turns down Orioles' bid of 6 years, $78 million

`Maybe he just did us a favor'

Anaheim contract said to be for 5 years, $70M

Mets, Marlins also jilted

January 11, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Vladimir Guerrero won't be coming to the Orioles, after all.

Major league sources confirmed late last night that the free-agent right fielder has agreed to terms with the Anaheim Angels on a contract believed to be worth $70 million over five years.

In the end, the Orioles were left out in the cold, despite making the best offer.

Yesterday, as it became increasingly clear that they weren't going to sign Guerrero, Orioles officials disclosed that they had made him a six-year, $78 million offer, saying they had presented it to his agents before New Year's Day.

As of 10:15 last night, the Orioles were still waiting for the official word from Guerrero's camp. "If it's a done deal, we're not the team," a top Orioles official said.

The Orioles said the offer was still standing, with no deadline attached, but their patience had already worn thin.

"This [$78 million offer] was out there a week before any of this New York [Mets] stuff started," the team official said. "We met them at a sixth year. We took the step. And that was before New Year's."

So if the rest of the industry was waiting for the Orioles to play their trump card, it turned out they had played it last month.

Guerrero, who turns 28 on Feb. 9, entered the offseason as the top free agent on the market, but until this past week, there was hardly a bidding war for his services.

The Mets offered Guerrero a three-year, $30 million contract with incentives and two vesting options that would have made it a five-year, $71 million deal.

Then last night, Mets general manager Jim Duquette said Guerrero's lead agent, Arn Tellem, called him to say that Guerrero had decided to sign with another team that had come forward with its offer Thursday.

Duquette said he did not know which team Tellem meant, but the Mets were told Guerrero was going to take a deal that would have paid him less than $71 million.

An industry source told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the Florida Marlins had made a one-year, $13 million offer. The Orioles had the only other known offer on the table.

Duquette's comments left the Orioles scrambling to find out if they were indeed out of the running. Team officials said they had not been told they were out by Tellem, Fernando Cuza, Diego Benz or any of Guerrero's other agents.

What made that more surprising is that only hours earlier, the Orioles had completed a deal with another of Cuza's clients, Rafael Palmeiro.

Tellem and Cuza did not return phone calls for this article.

In mid-December, when most teams were saying they didn't have the money to sign Guerrero, the Orioles started talks with a five-year, $65 million offer.

Later in the month, in a move that wasn't revealed to The Sun until Friday, the Orioles increased that offer to five years for $67.5 million, saying they didn't want to guarantee a sixth year because of lingering concerns about Guerrero's back.

He spent 39 games on the disabled list last season with a herniated disc in his lower back, then returned to play in 62 of the Montreal Expos' final 64 games.

For the season, he hit .330 with 25 home runs and 79 RBIs. He didn't hit fewer than 34 home runs in any season between 1998 and 2002.

Duquette said the Mets did not want to guarantee a five-year offer "based on the advice from our doctors [about Guerrero's back]."

According to sources familiar with the Orioles' talks, Guerrero's agents made an initial proposal asking for eight years, $145 million. They lowered those demands to seven years for $105 million, and for some time, neither side seemed willing to budge.

Eventually, the Orioles did.

After signing shortstop Miguel Tejada to a six-year, $72 million deal, and catcher Javy Lopez to a three-year, $22.5 million deal, the Orioles offered Guerrero the richest deal of the offseason.

But instead of softening, Guerrero's agents held firm, playing coy with the Orioles as they solicited interest from other teams. One top Orioles official said he thought the Guerrero camp was holding out for six years, $90 million.

That would be $15 million per season. Guerrero already turned down $15 million per year (five years, $75 million) from the Expos before declining arbitration. So far, the free-agent market obviously wasn't as fruitful as he may have thought.

A year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies gave Jim Thome the richest deal of the offseason when they signed him to a six-year, $85.2 million deal. That's $14.2 million per season, and there was implicit pressure on Cuza and Benz to re-raise the bar with Guerrero.

The Orioles weren't willing to do that. They were more eager to compromise with Tejada, Lopez and Palmeiro because shortstop, catcher and first base were three positions they absolutely needed to fill. But they knew if they lost out on Guerrero, they would still have Jay Gibbons to play right field.

"Maybe he [Guerrero] just did us a favor," one Orioles official said late last night.

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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