Garciaparra, Thomas unlikely


O's still pursue Conine, but talks cool with two other free agents




The Orioles are still considered one of the front-runners to land Jeff Conine, but at least two other free agents they once coveted appear to be headed elsewhere.

According to a team official, the Orioles are essentially out of the Nomar Garciaparra sweepstakes. The former All-Star shortstop has become one of the hottest free agents, with the latest reports having the New York Yankees as one of the leaders to sign Garciaparra to play first base.

The Orioles, looking to add Garciaparra's bat to their lineup, offered him a one-year, $4 million deal earlier this month with the hope of his playing first base or left field. Manager Sam Perlozzo even called the former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cub to sell him on playing in Baltimore.

However, Garciaparra turned down the Orioles' offer.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have cooled on former Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas. The slugger impressed club officials in a face-to-face meeting at last week's winter meetings, but according to one industry source, the Orioles didn't make Thomas an offer because they are unsure about his health.

The Orioles have been in contact with Michael Watkins, Conine's agent, every day since Wednesday, Watkins said. The sides are still discussing a variety of contract structures.

"We are moving along slowly," Watkins said. "It could speed up at any moment and happen. Or it could go on for a couple days."

Neither Watkins nor the Orioles would offer specifics, but a one-year deal worth between $1.75 million and $2.5 million is likely.

Atlanta, the Cubs and Minnesota also reportedly have shown interest in the Florida Marlin.

"He meets a lot of the criteria we've been talking about in trying to build the club," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "He's another guy we are hoping to convince to come back here."

They also have interest in Jeromy Burnitz and Kenny Lofton.

Boras' price too high?

The Orioles have been in talks with agent Scott Boras, whose free-agent clients include outfielder Johnny Damon and pitchers Kevin Millwood, Jarrod Washburn and Jeff Weaver. But at this point, the Orioles aren't in serious negotiations with Boras on any of his clients.

"You'd have to be interested in a player of Johnny Damon's stature, but I think the asking price is a little bit too high right now," Duquette said.

Duquette said the same holds true for Millwood, considered the top pitcher left. He reportedly is seeking an offer similar to the five-year, $55 million deal A.J. Burnett signed with Toronto.

Suitors for Ponson

When former Oriole Sidney Ponson finishes his five-day jail stay after being found guilty of driving while impaired on Monday, he will have a decision to make on where he wants to pitch.

The St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly interested in the troubled right-hander, whose contract was terminated by the Orioles in August after his third arrest for drunken driving. Barry Praver, Ponson's agent, did not return calls seeking comment, but he vowed on Monday that Ponson "will be playing baseball next year."

The Rangers have coveted Ponson before. They nearly signed him to a deal when he was a free agent before the 2004 season, but Ponson instead returned to the Orioles.

Around the horn

Duquette said the club will not hesitate to plug some of its holes with young players, specifically mentioning Chris Ray at closer and Nick Markakis in the outfield. Duquette also didn't rule out Hayden Penn or John Maine for the rotation. ... After striking out in their pursuit of Paul Konerko and Carlos Delgado, the Orioles are looking for a good defensive first baseman who could split time with Javy Lopez. Scott Hatteberg is a name that has been discussed.

Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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