The New York Mets yesterday denied that they are close to trading outfielder Bobby Bonilla to the Orioles, but a Mets official confirmed that the Orioles did make contact late last week to talk about a deal.
An Orioles source said Tuesday that the club has put together a nTC package that includes center fielder Mike Devereaux, first baseman David Segui and relief pitcher Brad Pennington -- a package the Orioles feel will be acceptable to the Mets -- but Mets executive Ed Lynch said that no specific offer has yet been made.
"Those were some of the names that were bandied about," said Lynch, who is special assistant to Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine, "but they have not made that offer. They might, but all they said was that they would get back to us after the holidays."
The Orioles have been pursuing a deal for Bonilla for the past couple of months, but their interest was believed to have diminished after the club signed first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to a rich, five-year contract. Now, it appears, that deal may have put the Orioles in a better position to make the trade, since Segui now is available.
The Mets may be amenable, but Lynch indicated yesterday that they have received Bonilla queries from a number of clubs.
"We've been talking to a lot of people about Bonilla," he said, "and a lot of names have been discussed. We've said that nothing is imminent, but that might change. I think the report is a little premature, but they may call Monday."
Orioles assistant general manager Doug Melvin said he was not happy to hear that the club's plans had been made public. He did not deny that trade talks are ongoing, but expressed regret that the Orioles' names had gotten out.
"I'm a little upset that they [the three names] have come out, because it's not fair to the players and it's our experience that deals don't get done when they leak out," Melvin said. "I just think it's tough on the players involved. It's unsettling not to know where you might be playing next year."
Orioles officials are expected to approach the Mets again soon after general manager Roland Hemond returns from vacation at the end of this week. McIlvaine also is off this week. Presumably, nothing can happen until both return.
There has been speculation that the Orioles will attempt to verify that Bonilla has recovered completely from shoulder surgery before moving forward with a deal, but Lynch said that they have made no official request for a medical examination.
"Not formally, no," he said. "We know that that has become their policy. They have asked about his health in general terms. He has been hitting at Shea Stadium for the past month, and he looks good. We'd be very comfortable with that."
The Mets have room in their plans for all three of the players mentioned in the possible deal, but they also are believed to be interested in shortstop Manny Alexander and left-hander Arthur Rhodes.
The Orioles seemed open to moving Rhodes earlier in the off-season, but it now seems unlikely he will be traded in any deal that doesn't bring the Orioles a solid starting pitcher in return.
As for Alexander, the Mets' interest has increased since last week when they were unable to acquire either Omar Vizquel or Felix Fermin.
"We need a shortstop, obviously," Lynch told The New York Times. "If we can get a shortstop from another area, fine. But if we're going to trade Bonilla and we can't get a shortstop anywhere else, then a shortstop's probably going to have to be in the deal."
The Orioles have expressed reluctance to trade Alexander, the heir apparent to Cal Ripken at shortstop. Alexander is considered the club's best middle-infield prospect.