Facing a potential break point in their off-season renovation, the Orioles have presented free-agent outfielder Brian Jordan with a modified five-year offer worth approximately $40 million, according to sources familiar with talks.
The upgrade, representing the most lucrative contract in franchise history, apparently puts the Orioles in a showdown with the Atlanta Braves for the Milford Mill graduate and former Pro Bowl defensive back. While the Orioles have promised Jordan he will inherit center field should he decide upon a return to his hometown, the Braves reportedly have assured him they will meet or beat any offer. Jordan has lived in Atlanta for nine years.
"The Orioles remain very seriously involved," Jordan's agent, Jim Turner, said yesterday. "Brian is giving them strong consideration."
Jordan will decide on his new team by Thanksgiving, Turner added.
General manager Frank Wren notified Turner of the upgrade last weekend after Jordan's Thursday tour of Camden Yards and brief meeting with majority owner Peter Angelos. The intensified push for Jordan comes amid increasing uncertainty over the return of free-agent left fielder B. J. Surhoff, who is scheduled to meet today with Pittsburgh Pirates executives, and an inability to command serious attention from free-agent pitcher Randy Johnson.
One year after signing Brady Anderson to a five-year contract, the Orioles are apparently willing to do the same for a player with a history of back problems. However, last season, which Jordan played without a visit to the disabled list, has convinced Angelos the risk is worth taking.
"I feel very comfortable about it," Wren insisted last night. "When you understand his health issue [chronic back pain] from two years ago, there was never a surgery and he just played an entire season. You just don't play the game the way he plays it -- all-out, running into walls -- if there's a problem. You just don't. We've all seen guys with tender backs. They don't play the game that way."
The Orioles will see whether Jordan signs with the Braves today, as some in Atlanta believe will happen.
Jordan spent time interviewing with the Orioles and Braves, as well as the New York Mets and New York Yankees, last week and was especially impressed by the Orioles' elaborate video production. The club not only envisions Jordan as a presence within a reshaped lineup, but it also hopes to place him at the hub of its marketing and charity planning. Jordan has made known his enthusiasm for such projects.
While waiting on Jordan, the Orioles continue to press for the return of first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. A club source said yesterday that significant progress has been made in holding onto Palmeiro, who last received a four-year offer worth more than $32 million. Jordan lobbied for the move during his visit.
Though his efforts have yet to produce a signing beyond right-handed closer Mike Timlin, Wren has found himself handicapped by his recent arrival to the warehouse and late entry in the bidding for several high-profile free agents, including Johnson.
Johnson's agent, Alan Nero, confirmed yesterday that his client intends to eliminate several teams from consideration by Thursday and reach a final decision next weekend. Six teams are reportedly under consideration -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, Anaheim Angels, Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Yankees. The Orioles and Cleveland Indians have become involved within the past 10 days. Geography -- Johnson prefers to play near his Phoenix home -- and timing conspire against the Orioles, who have yet to modify a three-year proposal approaching $30 million.
"Right now Randy is interested in subtracting teams, not adding teams," Nero said. "That's not to say the Orioles have been eliminated, but they are behind. They have to do something to jump ahead."
Johnson has visited his primary six teams but has no plans of touring Cleveland or Baltimore, Nero said.
The Orioles modified their bid to Surhoff this weekend but only marginally. They have refused to match the Pirates' guaranteed four-year deal but have apparently mimicked the Mets' three-year, $13.5 million deal including a club option for 2002. The Orioles are also insisting on deferred money while attempting to back-load the contract.
The lineup on the left is the one that was projected on the Camden Yards scoreboard during Brian Jordan's Thursday tour.
The lineup on the right is the possible Opening Day one based on the Orioles' current 40-man roster (AL starts in '97 in parentheses).
Brady Anderson LF .. .. .. .. . Brady Anderson (123) CF
B. J. Surhoff RF .. .. .. .. .. Mike Bordick (144) SS
Harold Baines DH .. .. .. .. .. Harold Baines (75) DH
Brian Jordan CF .. .. .. .. ... Cal Ripken (161) 3B
Rafael Palmeiro 1B .. .. .. ... Calvin Pickering* (6) 1B
Cal Ripken 3B .. .. .. .. .. .. Chris Hoiles (81) C
Chris Hoiles C .. .. .. .. .. . Willie Greene (11) LF
Mike Bordick SS .. .. .. .. ... Rich Becker (26) RF
Jeff Reboulet 2B .. .. .. .. .. Jeff Reboulet (33) 2B
Pitchers: Armando Benitez, Darin Blood*, Scott Erickson (36), Juan Guzman (33), Doug Johns (10), Scott Kamieniecki (11), Mike Mussina (29), Jesse Orosco, Sidney Ponson (20), Arthur Rhodes, Mike Timlin.
Catcher: Lenny Webster (79)
Infielders: Willis Otanez* (2), P. J. Forbes (1)
Outfielders: Lyle Mouton (11), Danny Clyburn* (7)
Pub Date: 11/23/98