Union pressure, option year blur Anderson's dotted line Outfielder, O's remain loyal, but other factors stalling negotiations

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Disagreements over an option year and deferred money and suspicion of union influence represent the steepest hurdles to Brady Anderson signing a four-year, $22 million contract extension, according to sources familiar with the stop-and-start negotiations between the Orioles' center fielder and team owner Peter Angelos.

Once considered inevitable, any quick agreement now appears jeopardized by issues beyond the mutually expressed loyalty between team and player.

"I have no comment. I'm not talking about my contract," Anderson said before last night's game against the Texas Rangers.

Seeking to minimize distractions associated with the talks, Anderson has had little comment about his situation since June 16.

Anderson initially asked for $18 million over three years, and the club had countered at about $5 million per season. However, the market was juiced by the Cleveland Indians' signing of Marquis Grissom to a five-year, $25 million contract, causing Angelos to include a fourth year while bumping the average to $5.5 million.

Anderson and Angelos had met shortly before the All-Star break. While no agreement was reached, enough progress was made for both parties to think a deal was possible soon.

A demand was subsequently made for an option for 2002. The desired option is believed worth between $1 million and $2 million. While the Orioles seek to defer about $1.25 million of each year's salary, that also remains a point of contention.

Anderson, 33, remains insistent that he wants to continue his career with the Orioles, and Angelos is equally adamant about retaining the team's popular and productive offensive catalyst.

However, the deal that once seemed certain enough for both parties to try to orchestrate a joint April signing between Anderson and Mike Mussina has been muddied.

Mussina accepted a three-year, $20.475 million offer May 3 that elicited criticism from the union's rank and file. Anderson similarly is negotiating below what leadership believes is market value.

Anderson's recent offensive struggles have mirrored those of the team. Manager Davey Johnson is talking of removing Anderson from his coveted leadoff spot tonight. The center fielder, meanwhile, has seen his average dip to .298 while an array of injuries have sapped the power that enabled him to hit a club-record 50 home runs last season.

While Anderson's request for an option year would do little to the average yearly salary, it may have complicated the procedure. According to a high-ranking club official, attaching the fourth year to the contract was done unilaterally rather than through negotiation. Attaching an additional demand outside the contract's framework appeared to slow momentum.

Still, the tone of negotiations remains congenial.

Unavailable to comment last night, Angelos said earlier this month, "We have every intention of satisfying Brady's wish and our wish that he remain a part of the Orioles. He's an important part of this team and this city. He certainly has shown his commitment with his physical conditioning."

Both sides have referred to the financial sacrifice as the "premium" for remaining in a desired situation. The concept is unacceptable to many unionists concerned about stagnating payrolls.

A popular theory suggests that the Major League Baseball Players Association is urging Anderson to file for free agency after the season when his availability could help fuel the market. Atlanta Braves center fielder Kenny Lofton is the only other outfielder who would rival Anderson's marketability.

Industry analysts believe involvement by an expansion team, specifically the Arizona Diamondbacks, could push Anderson's market value past $7 million per season.

Even if Anderson re-signed with the Orioles, failing to reach an agreement before season's end would allow the Orioles to protect an additional player in the upcoming expansion draft.

Anderson's representatives, Dennis Gilbert and Jeff Borris, did not return calls yesterday, as their client has ordered a media blackout.

Pub Date: 7/22/97

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