Negotiations with free-agent center fielder Brady Anderson entered a "sensitive" stage last night as Orioles majority owner -- Peter Angelos contemplated guaranteeing his frequent dinner partner a five-year contract.
Those familiar with the talks believe the gesture could well cinch the popular Anderson's return to the organization and the city he has often said he wants to embrace for the rest of his career.
Anderson, 33, and Angelos dined last night downtown as they met for a third consecutive day. Their conversation capped an eventful day in which the Atlanta Braves, having signed free-agent first baseman Andres Galarraga on Wednesday, withdrew their four-year, $30 million offer for Anderson.
Also, the New York Yankees postponed their anticipated four-year offer, reportedly until Monday, at least temporarily leaving the center fielder short on talking partners.
Angelos bumped his four-year offer from $23 million to $25 million on Wednesday but denied he has decided to give Anderson a fifth year, something his front office has counseled him against.
Still, Angelos seemed to be encouraged by the tilt of negotiations. "It's not like negotiating with an insurance company," Angelos, an attorney who has made millions in
asbestos litigation, said before last night's meeting. "Brady is someone I like as a person and admire as a player. He's a fun guy to talk to. It's a back-and-forth between us. There's nothing adversarial involved. That's why it's not like dealing with an insurance company."
A club source said yesterday that while Angelos is contemplating a five-year format he is still intent on exploring a four-year framework for now. The club is still insisting upon roughly $1.25 million be deferred from each year's salary. The issue still represents a sticking point between the two sides. It appears no settlement will be reached this weekend as Anderson and his representatives would first like to glimpse at what the Yankees are offering.
Angelos, meanwhile, seems comfortable playing on Anderson's preference to remain in Baltimore.
Anderson said earlier this week that he will sign for less money to remain in Baltimore but only if guaranteed a fifth season. Such a deal would likely approach $31 million and include a no-trade clause. Such a contract would mean that Anderson, who turns 34 in January, would be 38 when the deal expires. Many in the organization believe such a commitment to be a huge risk.
"If Peter would [guarantee the fifth year] that would be a major step in the right direction," said Anderson's agent, Jeff Borris. "The momentum in Baltimore is tremendous. It's very flattering. And Brady is honored that there's so great a push for him to stay."
The Orioles received an assist when the Braves chose to replace traded first baseman Fred McGriff with a free-agent first baseman rather than by shifting incumbent left fielder Ryan Klesko and seeking another outfielder.
During a meeting late Tuesday night after the expansion draft, Braves general manager John Schuerholz, president Stan Kasten, manager Bobby Cox and the club's leading scouts met to discuss whether to pursue Anderson, Galarraga or their own free-agent center fielder, Kenny Lofton.
Consensus advocated a right-handed-hitting first baseman; however, Schuerholz offered the team's "parameters" to Borris Wednesday morning -- a four-year, $30 million proposal. Later in the day, he overwhelmed Galarraga with a three-year, $24.75 million offer that was officially accepted Thursday.
"We're done," Schuerholz said yesterday. "In our opinion, we had one significant move left to make, and we made it."
The Braves had intrigued Anderson, mindful of the club's six consecutive postseason appearances and four World Series berths in the last seven years. As a leadoff hitter and defensive upgrade, he would have meshed neatly within a lineup that sputtered in its first season at Turner Field. As recently as Wednesday, Orioles officials were ready to concede Anderson was headed elsewhere.
While the Yankees held back yesterday, they are believed ready to at least match the $7.5 million average salary offered by the Braves. Dennis Gilbert, another Anderson agent, told the New York Times he spoke with Yankees general manager Bob Watson three times yesterday.
"The Yankees asked if they could get back to me Monday and give us their offer then," Gilbert said from his office in Beverly Hills, Calif. "I said no problem. We're in no hurry. We didn't negotiate at all. They'll give us a proposal on Monday and that's where we left it."
The Orioles' latest offer of $6.25 million per season hardly falls within the "home-field advantage" Anderson has vaguely described. Angelos also has been adamant about deferring part of the contract, something that has rankled the player. Angelos says he is four-square against raising ticket prices for next season but allows that a larger payroll might necessitate such consideration.
"We do not possess limitless resources," Angelos said. "There is an obligation to the other owners and the fans to maintain fiscal sanity."
In case a more attractive suitor emerges, assistant general manager Kevin Malone has spoken with the agent for free-agent outfielder Otis Nixon. Club sources say the interest may continue even if Anderson is re-signed, suggesting a likely deal involving either right fielder/designated hitter Geronimo Berroa or Jeffrey Hammonds, who general manager Pat Gillick currently projects as Anderson's replacement.
The Orioles need to address other parts of their club as well. Dissatisfied with the returning platoon of Berroa and Harold Baines, there is serious interest in acquiring either free agent Paul Molitor or Chili Davis as a full-time designated hitter.
The club still is interested in trading for Florida Marlins left-hander Al Leiter, but has spoken with representatives for free-agent pitchers Darryl Kile, Willie Blair and Scott Kamieniecki. If re-signed, Kamieniecki is projected as a No. 5 starter; if not, the role could fall within the organization to Nerio Rodriguez.
The Orioles continue to pursue closer Randy Myers with a two-year offer, but may be experiencing interference thanks to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who flexed their financial muscle earlier this week by signing shortstop Jay Bell to a five-year, $34 million deal.
Pub Date: 11/22/97