O's tender Pavano an offer

Details aren't disclosed

talks in works

in general, prices discourage team

December 10, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Orioles made an undisclosed offer to free-agent pitcher Carl Pavano earlier this week and were expected to resume talks with his agent, Scott Shapiro, late last night at the Anaheim Marriott, team sources said.

But even with a flurry of signings throughout baseball the past two days, Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan arrived at the winter meetings insisting they would not deviate from their best-laid plans.

According to team sources, the Orioles have become more and more turned off by the prices on the free-agent pitching market, increasing the likelihood they'll spend their money elsewhere.

They are expected to meet with the agents for first basemen Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson during these winter meetings. After weeks of speculation that they would sign Pavano or another top free-agent pitcher, the Orioles are still comfortable with the alternatives.

At the meetings, they'll continue exploring trades for a top pitcher, such as Oakland's Tim Hudson. And they'll also consider adding offense, while building around the starting pitching they already have.

This week, Beattie said the club wants to add a starting pitcher but stressed it would have to come at the right value. Sizing up the free-agent market, he said there are "four or five guys that may not be No. 1 [starters] but would certainly make us better 1-3."

Pavano clearly tops the Orioles' wish list. Of the other remaining free agents, they have expressed some interest in Matt Clement, Russ Ortiz, Derek Lowe, Eric Milton and Odalis Perez.

But they also recognize this free-agent pitching class for what it is: a deep group of solid No. 2 or No. 3 starters with no proven aces, save Pedro Martinez, who likely will return to the Boston Red Sox or sign with the New York Mets.

That's why they're interested in Hudson, whose career record is 92-39.

Privately, Orioles officials have bristled at some of the contracts pitchers have been receiving. For example, the New York Yankees had hoped to retain Jon Lieber with a two-year, $12 million contract. But Lieber's market changed when the New York Mets gave Kris Benson a three-year, $22.5 million deal last month.

Lieber wound up getting a three-year, $21 million deal from the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Yankees gave that same deal to Jaret Wright.

Published reports of other offers have been equally disturbing to the Orioles. The Yankees are said to have a four-year, $40 million offer ready for Pavano, and the Arizona Diamondbacks were said to have a four-year, $34 million offer on the table for Ortiz.

At those prices, the Orioles may well say thanks but no thanks.

Speaking generally, Beattie said if the club can't grab a free agent at the right price, "we may just go with the pitching we have and continue the development of our young pitching."

At last year's winter meetings, the Orioles took some heat for overpaying when they gave shortstop Miguel Tejada a six-year, $72 million contract. The Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers were the only other suitors and neither seemed willing to go higher than five years, $50 million.

But Tejada certainly justified the first year of his deal, winning the American League's Silver Slugger Award as the best offensive player at his position.

Orioles officials say if they "overpay" in this free-agent market, it will more likely be for a position player, with Delgado, Sexson and Magglio Ordonez the best candidates.

The Orioles also had to wince yesterday when Arizona handed third baseman Troy Glaus a four-year, $45 million deal. That salary, $11.25 million per year, likely drove up the price for Delgado and Sexson.

Spending big bucks on pitching is always the bigger risk. Gone are the days when Kevin Brown could get seven years, $105 million and Mike Hampton eight years for $121 million. But the Houston Astros still got burned last year when they signed Andy Pettitte to a three-year, $31.5 million contract and watched him go down with an elbow injury.

The Orioles weren't too thrilled with their three-year, $22.5 million deal to re-sign Sidney Ponson until he rebounded from a disastrous start to go 8-3 in the second half.

"We kind of feel like for our pitching staff, we'd like to get that guy who can be in front of everybody else," Beattie said. "But I think we've got 2 through 8 - or 9, really - with guys who are coming in and competing for jobs."

That may sound like fingernails on the chalkboard for most Orioles fans. A year ago, the team spent most of its money on offense and entered the season with four starting pitchers who had never completed a full season in the big leagues.

The strategy backfired as Ponson struggled out of the gate and Kurt Ainsworth and Eric DuBose went down with elbow injuries. But after switching pitching coaches from Mark Wiley to Ray Miller on June 26, the Orioles posted a 4.24 ERA the rest of the season - the second-best mark in the AL over those final 14 weeks.

"I think there's a lot of talent there," Beattie said. "Talking to Ray Miller, Ray would love to have a veteran [starter], but at the same time, he's very excited about the young pitching we have."

NOTE: Contrary to published reports, the Orioles have no interest in signing Arundel High alum Denny Neagle, whose contract was voided by the Colorado Rockies this month after he was cited for alleged solicitation.

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