In an attempt to negotiate a multi-year contract with pitcher Kent Mercker, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone flew to Cleveland yesterday to meet with the left-hander's agent.
Gillick would like to sign Mercker soon to avoid the pending arbitration case. Mercker, 28, asked for $3.19 million and the Orioles offered $2.6 million, with the hearing scheduled for Feb. 12.
Gillick has offered Mercker a two-year deal for about $6 million, with an option for a third year. Casey Close, Mercker's agent, said he and the Orioles' executives discussed a number of possible contracts, including a straight two-year deal.
"Both sides sat down and listened to the other's points," Close said. "The meetings have been fruitful."
The possible sticking point, Close indicated, is Mercker's salary in the second year of the contract. "He can become a free agent after next season," Close said, "and that's something to be considered."
Mercker was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in December for pitching prospects Joe Borowski and Rachaad Stewart, and is projected as the Orioles' No. 3 or No. 4 starter. He went 7-8 for the Braves last year with a 4.15 ERA.
The Orioles apparently have reached an impasse in negotiations with their other arbitration-eligible player, Arthur Rhodes. The left-hander, 2-5 with a 6.21 ERA in 19 games last season, asked for $675,000; the Orioles offered $300,000.
Gillick said he doesn't foresee a settlement in Rhodes' case, scheduled for a Feb. 15 hearing.