Ochoa still sticking point in Bonilla talks


The trade talks between the New York Mets and the Orioles are becoming predictable. At some point during the day, Orioles general manager Roland Hemond or his New York counterpart, Joe McIlvaine, calls the other; they talked again yesterday.

Hemond reiterates his desire to acquire switch-hitting slugger Bobby Bonilla, who would give the Orioles' offense a much-needed boost. McIlvaine reiterates his position that the Orioles include minor-leaguer Alex Ochoa in any deal. Hemond politely refuses, and they exchange goodbyes.

They're making no progress, and it doesn't seem like either side is ready to come out of its respective trench. The Mets' brass continues to say that it won't deal Bonilla without getting what they consider to be equal value in return -- Ochoa being part of that equation -- and the Orioles continue to insist, to McIlvaine and in private, that they absolutely will not deal Ochoa.

"No chance," said one Orioles official. "We're hanging onto this guy."

Part of the Orioles' thinking is that they have few position prospects in the higher levels of their farm system, few young players who could be major-league regulars in the next year or so.

So Ochoa's value is not only in his talent, but also in his salary -- the Orioles would have to pay him only the major-league minimum of $109,000 next year, and perhaps no more than $800,000 to $1 million over the next three years. On the other hand, they would have to pay Bonilla $4.5 million next year, and perhaps hire a free-agent replacement in the years after that.

According to one source familiar with the negotiations, the Mets asked for pitching prospect Rocky Coppinger over the weekend, and the Orioles refused. The Orioles have expressed a willingness to deal reliever Armando Benitez, whom they refused to trade to Montreal last year for right fielder Larry Walker.

Gerry Hunsicker, Mets assistant GM, told New York reporters: "It's less than 50-50 we'll make the trade."

"I'm sure if the Mets got what they wanted, I would be on the next flight to Baltimore," Bonilla told reporters. "The ball's in Baltimore's court.

"I was in Camden Yards for the All-Star Game [in 1993]. It's a beautiful place. If a team goes out of their way to get you, it makes you feel elated. . . . I can really accent their lineup."

The Orioles have had cursory discussions with the Toronto Blue Jays about outfielder Joe Carter. But when the Blue Jays asked about Benitez, the Orioles refused, probably discouraged by the idea of providing a closer for an AL East rival. Carter, too, would be a much more expensive investment than Bonilla; he will earn $6.5 million next year.

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