The Orioles might not qualify for the playoffs in 2005, but they reached the final four in their pursuit of free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado.
At least they know which teams remain in their bracket.
Delgado's agent, David Sloane, included the Orioles yesterday among the small group of clubs that he'll maintain contact with exclusively until someone steps forward with an offer that can't be refused.
"In order to sharpen our focus and move closer to getting a deal done, we will be pursuing further negotiations with Baltimore, Florida, the New York Mets and Texas," he said.
Sloane will speak with the Orioles' brass again this morning, and he has a meeting set with Marlins officials at 2 p.m.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox once were deemed within the industry as serious contenders for Delgado, who has stated a clear preference for the Bronx, and Sloane certainly would be receptive if they decided to get involved. The Yankees signed free-agent first baseman Tino Martinez before further inflating their payroll by trading for pitcher Randy Johnson, and the Red Sox still have Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz on their roster.
The Orioles have been extremely patient in their dealings with Sloane, beginning with an opening bid of $25 million over three years that served as a starting point in negotiations. Sloane recently sent them a counterproposal and has been waiting for team executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan to respond with a modified offer.
Beattie, Flanagan and Ed Kenney, director of baseball administration, didn't return calls to The Sun last night.
Sloane is attempting to confirm a meeting for later this week with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks in Puerto Rico, where Delgado lives during the winter. New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya already has made the trip, and the Florida Marlins entertained Delgado in Miami over the weekend.
The Marlins reportedly have offered $35 million over three years, the largest per-season contract in team history. The Mets could exceed it despite signing pitcher Pedro Martinez and outfielder Carlos Beltran.
Delgado has averaged 36 homers and 114 RBIs over nine seasons. He had 32 homers and 99 RBIs last year despite missing 34 games.
The Orioles want to plug Delgado into the middle of their lineup, and it's believed that he favors them over the remaining teams if the money is right. They continue to explore trades and haven't eliminated free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez from consideration, though they'll wait until he begins performing baseball-related activities and they can obtain more information on the condition of his left knee.
Meanwhile, the fan base remains restless, with the only outside additions to the club being reliever Steve Kline and utility infielder Chris Gomez. Pitcher James Baldwin and infielder Chris Stynes signed minor league contracts.
Meanwhile, the team has reached agreement with outfielder Luis Matos on a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and an announcement is expected today.
Matos, who earned $975,000 in the 2004 season when injuries limited him to 89 games, will also receive $50,000 bonuses for 450, 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances.
The Orioles also are close to re-signing Jerry Hairston.