Orioles give no ground, leave Mora up in the air

April 04, 2006|By PETER SCHMUCK

Melvin Mora is new to the option year concept, but he's learning a little more about the business side of baseball every day.

Over the weekend, for instance, he found out that talk is cheap. He met face-to-face with Orioles owner Peter Angelos on Friday and showed up at RFK Stadium that night with a big smile on his face -- all but certain that he had established a rapport with his employer that would lead to an improved offer from the team.

That probably would have been a fair assumption in any other organization, since Mora and agent Lon Babby took the unusual step of bidding against themselves and knocking another $3 million off their asking price.

If you haven't been following this day by day, here's a quick synopsis of the negotiations. Mora, who will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, made his initial proposal for a contract extension several months ago, asking for a three-year deal (with an option for a fourth season) worth $10.25 million a year. The Orioles countered in February with a three-year offer worth $24 million.

Mora has revised his proposal twice, most recently coming down to three years at $27 million Friday (including a no-trade clause that is an additional obstacle to settlement). The Orioles called Sunday and, according to Mora, improved their offer to, er, three years at $24 million. He apparently was not fooled and instructed Babby to initiate no further contact with the team.

"I told him to shut it down," Mora said yesterday. "I said, `If they come to you, fine, but don't go to them anymore.' "

If all this is weighing on him, it didn't show in yesterday's season opener against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Camden Yards. He reached base three times in five plate appearances and teamed with Luis Matos on back-to-back home runs in a four-run fifth inning that put the Orioles ahead to stay.

"I just have to go out and play the game the way I know how to play and see what happens," Mora said afterward.

Of course, we all know what is going to happen. Angelos clearly has decided that $24 million is the right number, and he's not the kind of guy who second-guesses himself on that kind of thing. Mora is just as convinced that $9 million per year is a bargain, considering that a bunch of other third basemen with similar numbers over the past couple of years make a lot more than that.

We can argue all day about whether Mora's age (34) should temper his asking price or his off-field contributions to the organization should justify it, but Angelos again has proved that he doesn't care a whit about that kind of thing. This is just about winning or losing, and that's why Mora probably will be headed elsewhere at the end of the season.

"This is just part of the negotiating [process]," Mora said. "It's the way they negotiate. There are no hard feelings. I'd love to be an Oriole, but I'm just going to try to walk away with a ring on my finger."

That would be nice, but the way this is shaping up, his best chance of reaching the postseason this year might be in another uniform. If nothing is settled by midseason, the Orioles almost certainly will try to get something for him before the July 31 waiver deadline.

Mora has made it clear he wants to live and play in Baltimore, which ought to be worth something to a team that badly needs to reconnect with this community, but he clearly is ready for whatever comes.

"You know why this doesn't bother me?" he said. "Because I am going to be the only free-agent third baseman out there at the end of the year. There are a lot of teams that are going to be looking for a third baseman."

The price will be determined by his performance this year, but he didn't seem too stressed about it yesterday. He walked in his first at-bat and popped up in his second, but hit the ball hard in each of his last three trips.

"Melvin has a strong mind and the good thing is he's here right now," said teammate Miguel Tejada, who has made no secret of his desire for Mora to remain beside him in the Orioles' infield. "He doesn't have to worry about it. They're going to decide if they are going to keep him or not. But right now he's just going to concentrate on playing baseball."

For the moment, at least, the Orioles have called his bluff. They have a history of doing that ... and it is not exactly a proud history.

"Sometimes, it's not even about money," Mora said. "It's about trying to be fair. That's what I'm trying to be. I am trying to be fair. I went down $3 million to try and catch up with them and they haven't come up."

No doubt, Angelos viewed Mora's concession Friday as a sign of weakness -- a sign that he wants to stay in Baltimore so badly that he'll eventually cave in and take the $24 million. It always comes down to the same thing with Angelos. Total victory.

If only he cared this much about beating the Yankees and Red Sox, he'd have an office full of trophies by now.


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