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Orioles closing in on McDonald, Hoiles contracts


The Orioles will enter the new year facing a mountain of paperwork, but they may get a couple of signings out of the way in the next few days.

The club has 35 unsigned players on the 40-man major-league roster -- all of whom have to be signed or renewed in the next 2 1/2 months.

Right-hander Ben McDonald and catcher Chris Hoiles could settle soon. According to club sources, McDonald is expected to OK a one-year contract worth about $2.5 million and Hoiles soon will agree to terms on a one-year deal worth close to $2 million.

But that's only the beginning. The Orioles are discussing a long-term deal with outfielder Brady Anderson and figure to make Mike Devereaux the third $4 million-plus player on the roster.

This usually is the quietest week of the year in major-league baseball. Most clubs close their offices for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. The major-league offices also are closed. Orioles general manager Roland Hemond is on a two-week vacation, but assistant general manager Doug Melvin will be in the office all week dealing with the mounting workload.

The Orioles have been the busiest team in baseball this off-season. They have signed free-agent pitchers Sid Fernandez and Mark Eichhorn and handed $30 million to free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. Other talks continue, including those with closer Gregg Olson, now a free agent.

No new signings appear imminent, but the Orioles have expressed significant interest in reliever Jeff Brantley, who was left untendered by San Francisco. They also continue to negotiate with free-agent third baseman Chris Sabo, but seem unsure he would be worth the approximately $3 million it would cost to sign him.

New York Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine told The New York Times that he has had no contact with Sabo's agent, Jim Bronner, since receiving a counter-offer to the Mets' original proposal. The Los Angeles Dodgers also are interested in Sabo, the Times said.

McDonald and Hoiles were not available for comment, but neither was in doubt of returning next season. Both were tendered contracts by the club on Dec. 20 and are eligible for salary arbitration.

McDonald was 13-14 last season, but ranked 12th in the league with a 3.39 ERA and pitched more than 220 innings for the second straight season. He earned $1.225 million last season and figured to more than double his salary in arbitration.

Hoiles batted .310 with 29 home runs and 82 RBI in a breakthrough season that established him as one of the top-hitting catchers in the game. He earned $350,000 last year, but figured to multiply that in arbitration. The Orioles apparently would like to avoid any confrontation with a player they view as a cornerstone for many seasons to come.

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