Orioles, Sosa are teamed in joy over pending deal

Agent says O's No. 1 choice

union OKs voiding '06 terms

The Sosa Trade

Orioles

February 01, 2005|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

As the Orioles and Chicago Cubs hammered out the final details on the complicated Sammy Sosa trade yesterday, one thing was perfectly clear:

Sosa wants this.

Over the past two years, for various reasons, Sosa has seen his popularity in Chicago fall from the reaches of the Sears Tower to the depths of Lake Michigan.

He had to know the Cubs would probably trade him this offseason. The only question was: Where? Last week, the Orioles and Cubs neared agreement on a deal that would send Sosa to Baltimore for second baseman Jerry Hairston and minor leaguers Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.

Yesterday, a key step passed when the players union approved the deal, and Major League Baseball began reviewing the paperwork for an expected rubber stamp from commissioner Bud Selig.

The trade could be completed tomorrow or Thursday.

"[Sosa] feels fabulous about this situation," said Sosa's agent, Adam Katz. "There are not a lot of places he was willing to go, and [Baltimore] is his first choice, his second choice and his third choice."

The Orioles are equally thrilled. They stand to get a seven-time All-Star, and they'll only be on the hook for $9.5 million of Sosa's contract.

As a player with 10-and-5 rights - 10 years in the big leagues, five with the same team - Sosa has veto power over any trade. But a source close to the negotiations said Sosa has agreed to waive his no-trade rights to come to Baltimore.

Players often use this leverage to negotiate a contract extension with their new teams, but Sosa is willing to come without any guarantees beyond 2005, the source said.

The Orioles have expressed interest in eventually working out a contract extension with Sosa, after they get a chance to see how he performs in Baltimore. Asked if those talks would take place, Katz said, "Perhaps."

But the source said yesterday: "The only thing holding this [trade] up is the physicals."

Sosa and Hairston must each pass a physical exam before the deal is completed. Hairston was expected to take his yesterday at the Cubs' spring headquarters in Arizona, but the Orioles were still trying to schedule an appointment for Sosa in Baltimore. The Orioles hoped for tomorrow, but Sosa might not be available until Thursday.

Selig must officially grant his approval, because more than $1 million will be exchanged. The Cubs have agreed to pay $12 million of Sosa's $17 million salary for this season.

The Orioles will pay the other $5 million. Sosa has an $18 million option for next year, but the Orioles can exercise a $4.5 million buyout. All told, this trade would cost them about $7 million, counting the $1.85 million they'd save on Hairston's salary and the $300,000 for Fontenot and Crouthers.

Sosa had a clause in his contract that guaranteed his 2006 salary if he were traded, but he agreed to void that clause for this trade, and the union approved.

Selig has twice approved larger salary transfers. Texas agreed last February to send the New York Yankees $67 million over seven seasons in the trade that sent Alex Rodriguez to New York for Alfonso Soriano.

In November 2002, Selig approved the Mike Hampton three-team trade, which involved $30 million.

Earlier this winter, the Cubs had serious discussions about trading Sosa to the New York Mets. But for Sosa, the Orioles were a better alternative.

"There was a slight preference for the American League," Katz said. "It's a fabulous ballpark and a fabulous division, and with that lineup, it's a good fit."

Sosa established himself as one of baseball's darlings when he and Mark McGwire surpassed Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1998. Sosa is still the only player in history to slug at least 60 home runs in three different seasons.

But his popularity sank after he was caught using a corked bat on June 3, 2003. He sneezed and injured himself last May, missing a month's worth of games, and then had a public falling out with Cubs manager Dusty Baker to end the season.

The Cubs discussed trading Sosa to the Orioles at the winter meetings in December, but the source said Chicago's asking price was much higher then. The Cubs wanted closer Jorge Julio and first baseman Jay Gibbons or left fielder Larry Bigbie, and Chicago was willing to pay only a few million of Sosa's contract then.

But after going nowhere for weeks, the talks intensified Friday, starting in the morning and lasting until about 9 p.m.

When news of the pending deal reached Sosa's hometown in the Dominican Republic, Sosa's relatives went to the home of Carlos Bernhardt, the Orioles' Latin American scouting director, and threw a party.

Bernhardt has known Sosa since the slugger was about 12, playing on the sandlots of San Pedro de Macoris. Their families have remained close. Though Bernhardt has not spoken to Sosa directly, he said Sosa's family is excited.

"I am like a father to him," Bernhardt said. "He has been taking batting practice every day. I watched him the other day, and he's in great shape, the best shape of his life. He looks like he's lost some weight, but he wants to do something amazing this year."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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