Mora, Angelos touch base

Contract discussed

infielder impressed with Orioles' owner


Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora still hadn't signed a contract extension after meeting with owner Peter Angelos yesterday morning, but he said he enjoyed the session and feels optimistic a deal could be done before Opening Day.

Mora said the two talked about his contract. "We're close," he said. "I think we're going to make a deal."

But he said he'd leave negotiations up to his agent. He said he and Angelos talked more about the team and their mutual desire to win.

"More to know him, more to meet him," Mora said of the hour-plus talk. "To know the guy who's running this team for a long time. I love to know my boss."

Angelos doesn't interact with the team regularly, and Mora said the conversation was only the second he's had with the owner in five years. He said he came away impressed with Angelos' intelligence and passion.

When asked if the sides might meet again soon, Angelos said, "It's certainly a possibility. He is a most impressive and a fine young man and we had a very nice meeting. That's all I want to say about it."

The third baseman's uncertain contract situation was among the leading subplots during the team's spring camp. But neither Mora nor manager Sam Perlozzo wants the questions to linger through the regular season.

"He assured me that if this thing wasn't resolved, he would play every bit as hard," Perlozzo said yesterday. "This thing is not going to bother him."

The Venezuelan slugger is entering the last year of a three-year, $10.5 million contract. It is believed that he and agent Lon Babby would be satisfied with a three-year extension worth $27 million. The club is believed to have offered $24 million over three years.

Babby declined to comment yesterday.

Mora reiterated his stance that he doesn't want to negotiate during the season.

"Too much to think about," he said. "I have to have fresh mind before the season start."

"I don't think it's going to go past Opening Day," he said of the negotiations. "After I talk to the owner, everything changed, after you see his face and see how much he want to win."

The Orioles have traveled this road before with unpleasant results.

In 1998, the team's leading slugger, Rafael Palmeiro, said he probably would not return if the club didn't extend his contract before Opening Day. Negotiations stalled, and though the Orioles ultimately increased their offer from $32 million to $50 million after the season, Palmeiro fled to Texas for a lesser deal after the 1998 season.

"It's a decision I had to make," he said at the time. "I've been waiting on them for an entire year. I tried to get this thing done before spring training. I pushed and pushed and nothing got done. When it came down to crunch time, I had to make a decision. I did."

The Palmeiro loss hurt but not nearly so much as that of ace Mike Mussina two years later. Mussina had said he wanted to be an Oriole for life and would accept less money to facilitate it.

The club initially offered $50 million for five years before the 2000 season. The Orioles added $10 million to the offer during camp and finally increased the proposed deal to $72 million for six years in August.

Meanwhile, they began trading off veterans in an obvious rebuilding step. Offered $88 million and a chance to pitch in the playoffs, Mussina left for the Yankees after the season.

"Waiting as long as I did with nothing happening, it was just disappointing," he said. "If they really wanted me to come back, I think they would have done a little more."

History repeated itself last year with closer B.J. Ryan. The club discussed an extension with Ryan during spring camp. He wanted $15 million for three years. The Orioles offered $10 million with performance incentives. Ryan cut off negotiations on Opening Day and proceeded to post a dominating season in his first full shot at closing.

The Orioles offered $18 million for three years in the offseason, but Ryan was blown away by a five-year, $47 million deal from Toronto.

The club had its reasons for hesitating in all three cases. Palmeiro was already 33 in 1998, and the team believed it had a suitable replacement in Ryan Minor. Mussina's contract was hefty for a franchise that didn't expect to contend immediately. Ryan hadn't proven he could close games.

Age seems the main concern with Mora. He has ranked among the game's most productive third basemen and biggest bargains over the past three seasons. He has moved his family to Baltimore, and he helped calm shortstop Miguel Tejada during a tempestuous offseason. But at 34, he is past the point when most hitters begin to decline.

He batted .283 with 27 homers last year. The Orioles do not have an obvious replacement for him in their farm system.

Mora said he didn't spend much time pitching his resume yesterday.

"I just want to meet my boss," he said. "And believe me, we had a good conversation."

"He's smart, really smart," he said of Angelos. "We're similar. ... He's hungry to win. He really cares. What I hear from him [is a] different story to what people say."

Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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