PHOENIX -- Flush with money no longer obligated to jettisoned first baseman Fred McGriff, the NL East champion Atlanta Braves assumed the clear lead yesterday in bidding for free-agent outfielder Brady Anderson by offering a four-year, $30 million package, according to sources close to negotiations.
Even more ominous for the Orioles, Anderson insists he will not return to Baltimore for less money unless owner Peter Angelos agrees to give him a five-year contract, something Angelos vowed not to do Tuesday night.
"If he won't give me five years, I won't be back," Anderson said last night.
Anderson turns 34 in January, stirring caution among many, including the Braves, who ponder a 38-year-old in the final year of his contract. However, the Braves may be able to avoid the fifth-year issue with more salary.
"I don't see any down side to the Orioles signing me to an extremely long-term contract. I don't see how the Orioles could be hurt by that," Anderson said. "If they just want to win an argument by not going past four years -- if that's their only goal -- they can win it if they want."
The Braves' package dwarfs the Orioles' standing offer of four years worth $23 million that also includes $5 million in deferred money.
The Braves' offer -- made during an early morning meeting with agent Jeff Borris in the team's hotel suite -- includes no deferred money. Angelos insisted Tuesday night that he would not give Anderson $7 million per season nor a fifth year on his contract. Referring to the Orioles' offer, Anderson said, "That offer is not acceptable. If it wasn't acceptable then, how is it going to be more acceptable now?"
Momentum seems to be working against the Orioles, so much so that team officials have expressed interest in free-agent center fielder Otis Nixon and may ready an offer before the weekend.
Borris spoke with general manager Pat Gillick and assistant GM Kevin Malone during Tuesday's expansion draft. Neither can be optimistic about a successful resolution.
"Certainly, we all hope Brady's back next year. But in this business, you don't always get what you hope for, so we have to make plans in case things don't work out," Malone said last night.
Earlier this week Anderson's representatives were hopeful of an agreement by week's end. However, the matter may now extend until at least Thanksgiving, a negotiating source said last night.
Though Angelos appeared to draw a line in the sand Tuesday, sources indicated he was ready to offer a modified proposal to Anderson last night. In a move at least as symbolic as it was substantive, Angelos met the player at his Inner Harbor apartment last night to better the club's position. A source said that progress was made, though details were unavailable.
The Orioles' majority owner has been singularly upbeat throughout the process that Anderson would return.
Angelos assumed control of negotiations from Gillick and Malone last April. After the two sides appeared to reach a deal in principle, talks stagnated.
In recent weeks, Anderson has shown increasing reluctance to settle for significantly less than market value, something teammates Cal Ripken and Mike Mussina did last spring. Anderson's stance further stiffened Monday when the Arizona Diamondbacks rattled the industry by signing free-agent shortstop Jay Bell to a five-year, $34 million contract.
"[Angelos] can't really be oblivious to the fact he lost money by waiting to sign me," maintained Anderson. "Even if I would agree to his price right now it's still more than what they could have had me for last spring. They took a chance and I took a chance by not taking their money. Mike and Cal wanted the security and the Orioles gave them the contract like they should have. The Orioles made great deals with those two guys and those guys got the security they wanted.
"I started the season with a broken rib and no contract. During the course of the year, I improved my position greatly."
Anderson's departure would create dramatic shuffling within a team that apparently has dedicated itself to one final push for a world championship before dismantling.
The free-agent market offers little in center-field help except for the slap-hitting Nixon and Kenny Lofton, who will likely command more salary than Anderson. Meanwhile, Anderson, who hit 50 home runs in 1996, has benefited from recent contracts given outfielders Sammy Sosa, Gary Sheffield and Marquis Grissom.
"I'll put what I've done the last five or six years against what Sammy Sosa has done the last five or six years," Anderson said of the Chicago Cubs' outfielder, who earns an average $10 million per season.
In a showdown with the Orioles, the Braves appear in the stronger financial position. Their payroll was about $10 million less than the Orioles' last season and Tuesday night's trade of McGriff to the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays freed an additional $5.25 million for the next two years.
Conversely, the Orioles must address the free agency of Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, B. J. Surhoff and Scott Erickson after next season.
"If the Orioles want me for less than other teams want to pay, then I want it to be my last contract," Anderson said. "When I stop playing I want it to be because I decide to stop playing. It'll be when I decide."
Pub Date: 11/20/97