Carlos Delgado apparently has narrowed his choices to the Orioles and Florida Marlins after two teams were eliminated in the ongoing tug of war over the free-agent first baseman, and an announcement could come as early as today.
Industry sources said the New York Mets exceeded the Texas Rangers' four-year, $48 million proposal that arrived during Friday's meeting in Puerto Rico, but their insistence on an immediate answer from agent David Sloane has taken them out of the running. And the Rangers, who also had a deadline last night, backed out yesterday because owner Tom Hicks didn't want to get in a bidding war and couldn't promise that Delgado would play first base.
Sloane didn't return calls to The Sun last night, but he told ESPN.com: "From the first conversation with the Texas Rangers, we made it crystal clear that Carlos Delgado had no interest in being a full-time DH. If we had 25 conversations with the Texas Rangers, we were told in 24 of those that the question of him playing first base was no issue. Earlier today, we were told that is changing and that 75 percent of his at-bats, should he choose to sign with the Texas Rangers, would come as a DH.
"After three months of negotiations, we were given less than five hours to tell them yes or no, to make a decision that affects not only the rest of Carlos Delgado's baseball career, but the rest of his life."
A source with knowledge of the Orioles' negotiations said they haven't guaranteed Delgado a fourth year, but they remained in contact with Sloane yesterday.
Before the winter meetings in December, the Orioles sent a proposal to Sloane for $25 million over three years that included an option for 2008. Team executives confirmed they went up to $30 million later that month, though Sloane didn't receive the offer until last week.
Vice president Mike Flanagan wouldn't comment on negotiations last night, except to say they were "ongoing."
Signing Delgado would be a major coup for the Orioles, who failed to land a front-line starting pitcher through free agency or trades. They've added relievers Steve Kline and Steve Reed, and utility infielder Chris Gomez.
The Marlins aren't prepared to go much beyond their three-year, $35 million offer to Delgado, though a source said they might add an option for 2008.
"Today I spoke once again to representatives of the Marlins, Orioles, Rangers and Mets," Sloane wrote in an e-mail. "Following these discussions, we now have a pretty clear picture of the landscape as it presently exists. We anticipate talking further tomorrow and hope we'll be able to have a final decision very soon."
The Mets already committed $194.5 million to free agents Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Kris Benson, and they appeared the front-runners to sign Delgado late last night. They offered him a three-year, $33 million deal after meeting with him Thursday in San Juan, and sweetened the deal after the Rangers stepped forward with a four-year, $48 million proposal.
The Rangers seemed to hold enough advantages to entice Delgado beyond the size of their offer. Texas doesn't have state income tax, and Delgado is a lifetime .316 hitter at Ameriquest Field, his highest average in any ballpark where he's accumulated 100 or more at-bats. In addition, Sloane represents the Rangers' hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo.
But the Rangers didn't want to move Severna Park's Mark Teixeira off first base, though he volunteered to play the outfield, and Delgado, 32, didn't want to DH.
Delgado and outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who had two surgeries on his left knee in 2004, are the last elite free agents still on the market. Ordonez might not sign until February, after teams can watch him work out and review all of his medical records.