O's, Mora discussing long-term contract

1 of 5 facing arbitration, Oriole would `love to stay'

January 20, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles have had recent discussions about a long-term contract for All-Star utility player Melvin Mora, and yesterday, he made his intentions clear.

"I'd love to stay here," he said in a telephone interview from his Bel Air home. "My family's here, and they treat me pretty good in this organization. I hope they can give me a long-term deal."

This isn't a hot-button issue for the Orioles because Mora won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2005 season. But this is a decision they have been wrestling with of late, as they head into the next phase of a busy offseason.

Today is the day major league teams exchange salary figures with players who are eligible for arbitration. Mora is one of five Orioles in that category, along with right fielder Jay Gibbons, second baseman Jerry Hairston, center fielder Luis Matos and left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan.

Asked if the Orioles are considering long-term deals for any of those players, executive vice president Jim Beattie declined to comment. But Mora confirmed that his agents, Tom Reich and Adam Katz, have had long-term contract discussions with the Orioles.

"We're talking about it, but we haven't finalized it," Mora said. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm prepared for anything."

Gibbons' agent, Sam Levinson, went to the Orioles last season expressing interest in a long-term contract. But industry sources say the team is content, for now, doing a one-year deal.

This is the first time through arbitration for Gibbons, who turns 27 in March. He made $375,000 last season when he hit .277 with 23 home runs and 100 RBIs, and arbitration could push his salary close to $2.5 million.

In September, Gibbons told The Sun, "I'd love to stay here for my whole career. But the ball's not in my court." Reached on his cell phone yesterday, Gibbons declined to comment.

Mora's salary jumped from $350,000 in 2002 to $1.73 million last season after he went through arbitration for the first time. He responded with a breakout first half, becoming the Orioles' lone All-Star representative.

Mora, who turns 32 next month, was leading the American League in hitting until July 9, but he went on the disabled list with a bruised hand in August and missed the season's final two weeks after spraining a ligament in his left knee.

After batting .349 before the All-Star break, Mora hit .188 after the break and finished the season at .317 with 15 home runs, 48 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage.

The injury has since healed. "I'm 120 percent," said Mora, who is penciled in as the team's third baseman for next season.

Mora's salary could also jump past the $2.5 million mark, though time on the DL has traditionally cost players through the arbitration process.

Here's how it works: The team and the player each submit a salary figure today. Many times, a settlement is reached near the midpoint, but if the sides can't agree, they take their case before an independent arbitrator, and he picks between the two figures.

Last year, for example, Mora asked for $2 million, the Orioles countered at $1.43 million, and the sides settled on Feb. 16, before the case went to a hearing.

"I think each guy is different depending on what their situation is," Beattie said. "I don't think we say, this is our position [about settling or taking it before an arbitrator]. I think we try to get their deals negotiated, and [arbitration] is something we are certainly prepared to go through."

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