Palmeiro, Sosa gone

Neither will return in '06, Flanagan says

Ryan is free-agent focus



The Orioles made the inevitable official yesterday, saying they will not be bringing back outfielder Sammy Sosa or first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

"At this point, we are heading in a different direction," club executive vice president Mike Flanagan said.

Palmeiro and Sosa, who were featured on the cover of the Orioles' 2005 media guide along with shortstop Miguel Tejada, have indicated that they would like to return to baseball in 2006.

But the prospects of either re-joining the Orioles dwindled dramatically after both suffered through nightmarish seasons.

Sosa, who turned 37 yesterday, came to the Orioles in a Feb. 2 trade with the Chicago Cubs for second baseman Jerry Hairston and two minor leaguers. After hitting 35 or more homers in each year since the strike-shortened 1994 season, Sosa was expected to provide an immediate offensive boost while batting cleanup behind Tejada.

Instead, he hit just .221 with 14 homers (his fewest since 1992) and 45 RBIs in 102 games.

It also was reported that he and Tejada had a disagreement that led to a frosty relationship between the two Dominican Republic superstars.

Compared to Palmeiro, however, Sosa's 2005 was a walk in the park.

Palmeiro's season included collecting his 3,000 career hit in July, and within weeks, being suspended for failing a drug test. Palmeiro, 41, continues to deny he intentionally took steroids, but he has no concrete proof as to why stanozolol was found in his system during a May drug test.

Both players are now unrestricted free agents. Palmeiro is expected to attempt a comeback to help restore his reputation, and Sosa needs just 12 homers to reach the No. 600 milestone. Palmeiro did not return phone calls. Neither Sosa nor his agent, Adam Katz, could be reached to comment.

Of the Orioles' remaining free agents, the team is only actively pursuing closer B.J. Ryan. The others, outfielder Eli Marrero and pitchers Jason Grimsley and James Baldwin, are not immediate priorities, Flanagan said, though he did not rule out the potential of offering minor league contracts to one or more later this offseason.

Ryan is eligible to negotiate with other teams and reportedly will meet with the Toronto Blue Jays tomorrow as he begins a tour of interested clubs.

Meanwhile, Flanagan said he felt that last week's major league general managers meetings were productive in formulating his plans to improve the club.

"I would say a lot of groundwork was established in a lot of different directions with clubs and agents," Flanagan said. "We had a very heavy schedule."

He estimated that the Orioles' front office met with about 20 major league clubs and representatives of about "40 to 50" free agents to discuss options.

Among those he talked to were agents for pitchers A.J. Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Paul Byrd and Jarrod Washburn, as well as hitters Ramon Hernandez, Bengie Molina and Nomar Garciaparra.

"We have an interest in a lot of players," Flanagan said. "And we were making sure we touched base with the agents for a lot of them."

Flanagan said he was left with the impression that there may be more trades than usual this offseason.

"There's the possibility for that," he said. "It just seems like there are a lot more conversations about teams' willingness to trade.

"Perhaps it's a weaker, thinner market, I don't know, but it certainly is a trend I see possibly happening."

He confirmed that he spoke to Florida Marlins GM Larry Beinfest, who reportedly is exploring options that could include moving first baseman Carlos Delgado, center fielder Juan Pierre and catcher Paul Lo Duca.

"We did talk, but again they were just laying out what they might do," Flanagan said. "But I don't think we got real specific. We left it open for future talks."

Flanagan reiterated that his primary goal is to acquire "one veteran pitcher and some offense, if that's one guy or three guys, that's yet to be determined."

He said his pursuit of a hitter is not position specific. Although rumored to be in the market for a catcher, Flanagan said he'd be content going into the season with incumbent Javy Lopez and reserve Geronimo Gil sharing duties behind the plate if there have been upgrades elsewhere.

Also, he said he expects to keep Melvin Mora at third base, so any infielder the team might pursue likely would end up at a different position.

One intriguing possibility is Garciaparra, a former All-Star shortstop who has battled injuries.

Flanagan said he has not had specific discussions about Garciaparra and the Orioles, "but we have been told he'd be willing to try other positions."

One American League observer believes Garciaparra could be a solid defensive first baseman.

Another former All-Star likely won't be heading to Baltimore. A recent New York Post report said the Orioles were pursuing catcher Mike Piazza. Although Flanagan wouldn't comment about his interest in specific players, one industry source familiar with the team's plans said Piazza is not considered an Orioles target at this time.

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