Sosa's on deck for O's

Physical is planned for today

introduction could come tonight

February 02, 2005|By Joe Christensen and Lem Satterfield | Joe Christensen and Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Vowing to win over Baltimore's fans, Sammy Sosa arrived in town last night, ready to be introduced today as the newest Oriole.

"It's a great place for me to come here and win the crowd like I'm going to do and be happy again," Sosa told The Sun last night. "I like the situation in Baltimore. They have a great ballpark. I think I'll be perfect here."

The podium at Camden Yards is ready, and the Orioles hope Sosa will be standing there, sometime today, flashing his thousand-watt smile.

Today, he will undergo a thorough physical examination and, assuming everything checks out, the Orioles plan to introduce him as their first major acquisition of the offseason.

The news conference has been tentatively scheduled for early this evening, team sources said.

The trade that will send Jerry Hairston and minor leaguers Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers to the Chicago Cubs for Sosa was still not official last night, but multiple major league sources predicted it will be completed today.

"We still have some work to do and some things to work out [before Sosa speaks at a news conference]," Sosa's agent, Adam Katz, said yesterday.

Besides Sosa's physical, the deal still needed approval from commissioner Bud Selig, who had not viewed the paperwork as of late yesterday afternoon. Everyone involved expects that to be a formality.

Sosa arrived at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel downtown at 9:15 last night, pulling up in a black stretch limousine. Waiting until his luggage was unloaded, he emerged from the limo, shaking hands with hotel staff members while heading into the empty lobby.

Sosa, wearing a long black overcoat and his trademark smile, checked in and posed for photographs with his agent and business manager. He then spoke with a Sun reporter for a few minutes in the hotel restaurant before ordering a late dinner.

Though his departure from the Cubs follows a season when his popularity in Chicago plummeted, Sosa didn't criticize the fans there.

"I loved the people in Chicago," said Sosa, who paused during the brief interview to perform the familiar home run kiss and chest pound routine for the benefit of another restaurant patron. "Chicago was the place I wanted to be all my life. I wanted to finish my career there. I'll always keep Chicago in the bottom of my heart because they gave me an opportunity. All those beautiful fans. Everybody in general was great to me. I don't have anything bad to say about Chicago."

Meanwhile, a television crew from ESPN was in Baltimore, along with multiple reporters from Chicago, as the Orioles braced for their biggest announcement since Cal Ripken retired to end the 2001 season.

The Cubs have braced themselves for the backlash. This has not been an easy time for that organization.

Sosa, 36, ranks seventh on baseball's all-time home run list with 574. He is the only player to hit 60 homers in three different seasons (1998, 1999 and 2001), and he is a seven-time All-Star.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Cubs have already found Sosa's replacement in free-agent right fielder Jeromy Burnitz. But an announcement on that signing was on hold as the Cubs waited for the Sosa trade to become official.

Last season, Sosa hit .253 with 35 home runs and 80 RBIs.

Burnitz hit .283 with 37 homers and 110 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies, but Sosa played in 24 fewer games because of injuries.

To part ways with Sosa, the Cubs have agreed to eat about $16 million.

That includes $3.5 million in severance pay from a previous contract, and about $12.5 million toward the remainder of his current contract.

The Orioles will pay Sosa about $9 million this season, but they are freeing themselves of the nearly $2 million they owe Hairston, which is why team officials feel they are getting Sosa for one year at about $7 million - with no strings attached.

Yesterday, one source close to the negotiations disputed a report in yesterday's Sun that said the Orioles would still hold an $18 million option for 2006 with Sosa, with a $4.5 million buyout.

Sosa's original deal triggered that bulky 2006 salary if he were traded, but Sosa agreed to completely void the option, and the union approved, according to the source. Eventually, the source said, the Orioles might try to sign Sosa beyond 2005, but the sides would be starting from scratch.

"There's no set timetable to talk about it," the source said.

NOTES: Even with Sosa, the Orioles would still like to upgrade their starting pitching, but the Arizona Diamondbacks have so far refused to engage in serious discussions about Javier Vazquez, according to a major league source. Traded from the New York Yankees this winter, Vazquez was thought to want out of Arizona, but the Diamondbacks insist he's happy and they insist they want to keep him, so they haven't even discussed names with the Orioles. ... The Orioles reached agreement with left-handed reliever Horacio Estrada on a minor league deal. Estrada, 29, pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies between 1999 and 2001, and is 4-1 with a 7.50 ERA in 15 career major league appearances.

Sun staff writers Roch Kubatko and Mary Beth Kozak contributed to this article.

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