Orioles come up short on landing Sexson

Free agent winds up signing with Mariners

O's may focus on M. Ordonez

Baseball

December 16, 2004|By Roch Kubatko and Joe Christensen | Roch Kubatko and Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Rather than pencil first baseman Richie Sexson into the middle of their lineup next season, the Orioles had to cross him off their free-agent list yesterday when he signed a four-year, $50 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

The deal became official once the Mariners viewed the results of a magnetic resonance imaging test taken yesterday on Sexson's surgically repaired left shoulder. It also had the Orioles again sifting through their remaining options.

"This is first and foremost where I wanted to be," said Sexson, who is from Brush Prairie, Wash. "In the back of my mind, and for my family, we knew this is where I wanted to be."

Sexson has averaged 32 homers and 94 RBIs the past four seasons despite appearing in only 23 games this year before tearing his labrum on April 28.

Team officials confirmed yesterday that the Orioles presented a three-year offer to Sexson's agent, Casey Close, believed to be worth about $30 million. They were contemplating a four-year offer but never got that far in negotiations.

"They got to a certain point, and they sort of disappeared," said vice president Mike Flanagan, "and that's when we assumed they were rolling along with somebody else."

The Orioles made a run at Sexson but figured their chances of signing him were minimal because he's a Northwest native and resides in Vancouver, Wash.

"You reach a point and then it becomes, as you're seeing more and more with guys who have been around a little bit, a geographical preference," Flanagan said. "You can't compete with that."

Executive vice president Jim Beattie said he didn't have any contact yesterday with Close or David Sloane, who represents free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado. The Orioles don't appear willing to venture into the same financial neighborhood that Delgado lived in with the Toronto Blue Jays after signing a four-year, $68 million contract.

The Mariners retain interest in Delgado, who doesn't seem open to taking a significant pay cut. The New York Mets also are expected to make a strong push for him, and nobody in the industry is discounting the New York Yankees.

Despite a report coming out of New York yesterday, the Orioles haven't made Delgado a four-year, $45 million offer, according to a club official.

As for Sexson, the Orioles expected him to sign with the Mariners yesterday despite engaging in talks with Close the previous night, so the news wasn't a surprise. Sexson took a physical examination on Monday and underwent an MRI yesterday.

Still intent on adding another bat to their lineup, the Orioles might have to focus more on the outfield - free agent Magglio Ordonez among the more prominent names available - rather than bringing in a first baseman.

"We've got a couple avenues out there," Beattie said. "That's not the only way we can go because of the options we have with the players that we have right now. We can have the outfield bat or the first base bat. I'm not sure we'd be able to do both."

Rafael Palmeiro doesn't appear to be one of those options, at least not on a regular basis. The Orioles still want to use him primarily as the designated hitter.

"I don't envision him getting most of the starts at first," Flanagan said. "We felt by the end of the season that playing first base every day was a drain on his legs."

The Orioles plan on experimenting with catcher Javy Lopez at first base in spring training to possibly keep him fresher for the season. Jay Gibbons also could get some starts there if he returns, but he's likely to be non-tendered on Monday unless the sides come to a one-year agreement.

"We haven't gotten there yet," Flanagan said. "We have options. We're not at the point of being desperate. We have flexibility. It's not like we don't have anybody who can go over there."

Meanwhile, according to some teams that have engaged in talks with Florida officials, the Marlins will trade pitcher A.J. Burnett only if they can acquire the Oakland Athletics' Tim Hudson, leaving open the possibility of a three-way deal. The Orioles are interested in both pitchers and recently have steered more of their attention toward Burnett, though the A's still regard them as a suitable trade partner.

The Athletics have targeted Orioles pitchers Erik Bedard, John Maine and Hayden Penn, but they've also denied the club an opportunity to negotiate an extension with Hudson, who becomes a free agent after next season.

The Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves are making a hard push for Hudson. A source said the Red Sox were aggressive in adding shortstop Edgar Renteria with a four-year contract yesterday so they could attempt to package top prospect Hanley Ramirez and at least one pitcher for Hudson.

NOTE: If traded, Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa would make $35 million over the next two years, and the Orioles have no interest in acquiring him. One member of the organization said it would only happen if the Cubs were willing to pay "about 80 percent of it."

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