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Home cooking pays off for O's Anderson enjoyed sit-downs with owner; Beck signing unlikely

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Brady Anderson officially came home to a place he never really left yesterday, signing a five-year, $31 million contract and capping a monthlong negotiation that was influenced by equal parts emotion and calculation.

During a casual afternoon news conference, Anderson said he could never envision himself playing for the New York Yankees or several other teams that had expressed interest. He described at length a process that centered around his love for Baltimore, its fans and his teammates.

Given a chance to second-guess a negotiating tack that sacrificed leverage for his admitted preference to stay with the Orioles, Anderson said, "Maybe my strategy delayed the process a little bit but I never felt I did the wrong thing."

The agreement -- four years at $6.25 million and a fifth for $6 million with a total $6 million deferred -- included several well-publicized dinner meetings with majority owner Peter Angelos and a memorable 45-minute exchange on Saturday night.

Recalling the breakthrough conversation with Angelos, Anderson quoted the owner as saying, "Look, Brady, I'm going to make you one more offer. If you don't accept it, I'm never talking to you again."

Anderson replied, "You're never talking to me again?"

"Well, I'll still take you to dinner, but I'm through negotiating with you," Angelos said.

Moments later, Angelos offered to bump the five-year contract from $30 million to $31 million. Anderson accepted. "The Game" that Anderson professed to thoroughly enjoy was done.

While signing Anderson, the Orioles said they have had preliminary discussions about free-agent closer Rod Beck, who last season saved 37 games for the San Francisco Giants. Like Anderson, Beck is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council. However, Beck's likely asking price -- four years for about $22.5 million -- is believed too rich for the Orioles.

General manager Pat Gillick is loathe to offer anything more than three years to a pitcher and was unwilling to guarantee a third year to incumbent Randy Myers, who defected to the Toronto Blue Jays for a three-year, $18 million deal.

"Right now, [Beck] doesn't look like an option," said a club source.

If the Orioles acquire a free-agent reliever, he more likely will serve in a set-up or long relief role. They also are still interested in signing another starting pitcher to a short-term contract.

The Orioles also are uncertain whether any other parts of their veteran core will be willing to accept less than top dollar to remain.

Assistant general manager Kevin Malone said the club is "in discussion" regarding how to approach second baseman Roberto Alomar and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, both of whom are entering the final year of their contracts.

"We have to look at those possibilities. We've already started to explore that," Malone said of potential contract extensions. Both players are unlikely to settle for less than the $6.3 million annual salary that now serves as Angelos' benchmark for position players. Meanwhile, this winter's most hyperactive nonexpansion team, the Cleveland Indians, is intrigued by Alomar and would love to put him in the same lineup with brother Sandy.

The Orioles already have rejected Indians general manager John Hart's initial overture for Alomar, but are interested in their closer, Jose Mesa.

"We're doing everything humanly possible to keep all of our star players here," Malone said. "I'm sure at some point next year we'll have to make some tough decisions to keep Rafael or Roberto or the other guys whose contracts are up. It's never an easy process."

Few qualities are more important to Angelos than loyalty. He was impressed enough by Anderson's desire to remain in Baltimore that he guaranteed the outfielder a fifth season against the advice of some within the organization. Likewise, Anderson, who turns 34 next month, likely would have commanded another $1 million per season without deferred money if he had not committed himself to return.

The signing came after Anderson and Angelos cemented a relationship through face-to-face negotiations. Anderson described the Orioles' majority owner as "intelligent" and "fair" and insisted their talks were never less than cordial.

"We decided early on that mutual respect, old-fashioned decency and genuine integrity are more important than headlines or outcomes," Angelos said in a statement. "Without those core values, there would be no headlines today about the extraordinary outcomes of our negotiations in good faith. These negotiations were about how a person lives, not just about how finances his lifestyle."

Angelos described the approach as an illustration of "the Oriole Way," an approach that places character and integrity alongside ability.

Angelos cited Anderson, Cal Ripken and Mike Mussina as role models who "exemplify the values most important to character-building."

Like Ripken and Mussina, Anderson also signed for less to remain with the Orioles. The Atlanta Braves briefly offered Anderson a four-year, $30 million contract. On Saturday, the Indians made a four-year, $28 million bid that served as a catalyst for Anderson and Angelos hammering out a final deal.

Anderson reiterated yesterday that the Indians' offer added "urgency" to what had been sluggish negotiations. Anderson told agents Jeff Borris and Dennis Gilbert to counter the Indians' initial bid with a four-year, $32 million request.

Had Angelos not increased his bid by $1 million last Saturday, and the Indians had responded favorably, Anderson would have felt bound to take Cleveland's offer. (Yesterday, the Indians signed free agent Kenny Lofton to a three-year, $24 million deal.)

Anderson conceded he had difficulty, though, envisioning himself playing in Yankees pinstripes.

"I like black and white. I had kind of a good picture of what it was going to be like," he said of a Yankees offer that never came. "But then I'd go home, lay in bed at night and think about walking into Yankee Stadium as a home player. It felt strange. I just couldn't do it. When I imagined it, it made me feel even stronger that I wanted to stay with the Orioles."

Anderson didn't sign until after the afternoon news conference when he met with club counsel Russell Smouse. Anderson sought to have the final year of his contract restructured with $5 million of the $6 million classified as a signing bonus. The arrangement calls for Anderson to receive only $1 million during the 2002 season with a $5 million lump-sum payment scheduled for December.

The move would protect Anderson in case of a players' strike or lockout that year, when the Basic Agreement is set to expire. In case of a strike, players lose salary but still must be paid bonus money.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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