Drop in price sold Orioles on closing the deal

The Sosa Trade

February 03, 2005|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The trade talks were stalled. The Chicago Cubs had hit a wall in their efforts to unload seven-time All-Star Sammy Sosa. The Orioles' offseason was still a fruitless disappointment.

It was Jan. 12, and the weather outside the baseball owners' meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., was sunny but cool.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Cubs president Andy MacPhail, two friends from their days negotiating baseball's latest collective bargaining agreement, greeted each other warmly after arriving at the Four Seasons resort, then sat for a private meeting on the patio.

MacPhail made a strong pitch: The Cubs were going to trade Sosa, no matter what, but Sosa's preference, by far, was to play in Baltimore.

Angelos tucked it away. If Orioles vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie could swing the right deal for Sosa - without giving up too much talent and without leaving the club on the hook for too much money - it had to be considered.

Yesterday was the culmination of that effort. The Orioles completed one of the biggest trades in franchise history, obtaining Sosa and cash considerations from the Cubs for Jerry Hairston and minor leaguers Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.

"I don't want to take any credit for [the trade]," Angelos said. "Mike and Jim are the ones who put it together."

Yesterday, multiple baseball sources described the process that brought Sosa to Baltimore as a complex puzzle whose pieces didn't fit until late last week.

The Orioles had Sosa's name on their list of possible acquisitions early in the offseason, but it was buried beneath free-agent sluggers Richie Sexson and Carlos Delgado.

At the winter meetings in mid-December, the Orioles had discussions with the Cubs about Sosa as they courted Sexson and Delgado. Back then, Chicago's asking price was much steeper.

The Cubs were willing to move Sosa and reliever Kyle Farnsworth, but they wanted Orioles reliever Jorge Julio and a corner outfielder - Jay Gibbons or Larry Bigbie. In addition, Chicago was willing to absorb only a small chunk of Sosa's hefty contract.

So, for weeks, Orioles officials scoffed at any hint in the media that Sosa's likely destination was Baltimore.

At that cost? Forget it.

Eventually, their options dwindled.

They made a $30 million bid for Sexson, but he signed with the Seattle Mariners for $50 million. Then, they made a $48 million bid for Delgado, but after much deliberation, he signed with the Florida Marlins for $52 million.

The Cubs studied those Delgado talks closely, hoping to pounce on the teams that got left out in the cold.

Earlier in the winter, Chicago had serious discussions with the New York Mets about Sosa. Those teams seemed like a good fit. The Mets would be putting Sosa's super-sized personality on the New York stage, and the Cubs would get Chicago native Cliff Floyd. It could have been a reunion of sorts. Mets general manager Omar Minaya was one of the scouts who originally helped bring Sosa to the Texas Rangers in 1985.

But the Mets went big, signing free-agent center fielder Carlos Beltran, and when Delgado signed with the Marlins on Jan. 25, the Cubs waited for a call from Minaya.

It never came.

Suddenly, it looked like the Cubs might get stuck with Sosa. They had serious talks with the Washington Nationals, but with baseball's other 29 teams still holding ownership of that team, the Nationals are working with strict budget restraints.

To trade Sosa to Washington, the Cubs would have had to absorb all but a tiny portion of his salary. It was time to make a stronger push toward Baltimore.

With Angelos' blessing, Beattie and Flanagan knew they could have Sosa, if they could just get the price low enough.

So what was he worth? Despite his accomplishments, Sosa had compiled some serious baggage over the past two years. Sure, he ranked seventh on baseball's all-time home run list with 574, but there was the corked-bat incident in June 2003 and the ugly public fallout with Cubs manager Dusty Baker to end last season. Also, Sosa is 36, and his statistics suggest he's on the downward slide of a Hall of Fame career.

Looking back at Orioles history, the club has traded for a player with similar cache to Sosa three times, and each is an interesting case study:

In December 1965, they acquired Frank Robinson from the Cincinnati Reds for Milt Pappas and two other players. Robinson was 30 and had won a Most Valuable Player Award for the Reds, but he was viewed as a malcontent in Cincinnati. In his first year with the Orioles, he won the Triple Crown and led the team to its first World Series title. They won four American League pennants in his first six years.

In 1976, they traded Don Baylor, Mike Torrez and Paul Mitchell to the Oakland Athletics for Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman and a minor leaguer. Jackson reported to the Orioles after a monthlong contract dispute and left at season's end to sign with the New York Yankees.

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