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O's focus on Brown, not Clemens Trade offer to Jays isn't among top five, Toronto GM Ash says; Foss: O's payroll can grow; At least 4 other teams may bid for free agent


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Orioles' flirtation with acquiring Roger Clemens from the Toronto Blue Jays has not placed them among the five finalists for the five-time Cy Young Award winner, Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash said during a conference call yesterday.

Instead, the Orioles intend to battle at least four other large-market organizations for free-agent pitcher Kevin Brown during baseball's winter meetings, which begin today at The Opryland Hotel.

At the same time, Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss said acquiring Brown -- who is expected to command a six-year contract approaching $85 million -- would not shackle the organization financially, even with the Orioles headed for an $80 million payroll next season without Brown.

"Certainly Kevin Brown coming to this organization would be a huge economic event," Foss said. "But given the strength of the Orioles' franchise, we could comfortably handle it. It can be handled."

The Orioles began last season with a $69 million payroll that eventually climbed beyond $77 million, including bonuses and benefits. Without Brown, Foss doesn't concede the $80 million projection, but allows, "Then again, we don't really have our 25-man roster in place yet."

Foss cites significant money deferred at no interest within several long-term contracts as softening the financial hammer.

While the average value of Albert Belle's five-year contract is $13 million a season, $3 million is deferred each season. Scott Erickson, Brady Anderson, Delino DeShields, Mike Mussina and Will Clark also accepted interest-free deferrals to play in Baltimore. Though the Orioles have remained publicly reluctant to offer Brown a guaranteed six-year deal, it's believed that deferred money may instead become the pivotal issue as they try to outbid the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Anaheim Angels, Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres.

Meanwhile, whatever hopes the Orioles briefly harbored about trading for Clemens have evaporated.

Ash said yesterday that one of six suitors had abandoned its pursuit of a Clemens deal, but he did not name the club. He added he had not previously received any persuasive offer from the Orioles. An industry source said earlier this week that the Orioles had discussed sending a three-player package consisting of a left-handed reliever believed to be Arthur Rhodes and prospects Ryan Minor and Jerry Hairston. Rhodes, however, remains a talent to be discussed during this week's meetings as general manager Frank Wren attempts to bolster his right-handed relief.

The known survivors in the Clemens sweepstakes are the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians. A fifth "surprise" team is also involved.

Ash added during yesterday's teleconference call: "We're prepared to move on the deal, but I obviously don't have control of the timetable."

If traded, Clemens has the right to demand his new team trade him at the end of the 1999 season. The possibility can be circumvented if his new team renegotiates his contract before next October. Before making such a sizable investment in personnel, any club would first attempt to negotiate an agreement with his agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks.

Many expect Clemens to stall an agreement until Brown signs an anticipated record contract. He then will attempt to bump the guaranteed portion of the next two years of his contract -- $16 million, including deferred money -- into Brown's range.

"[Brown] can only go one place," Ash said. "He doesn't necessarily clash with our possibilities."

The Blue Jays continue to seek monstrous compensation and are insistent on getting major-league players in return. (Minor and Hairston have a combined 21 major-league at-bats.)

"I'm not apologizing for shooting too high," Ash said. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game."

For the Orioles, Brown is better.

Pub Date: 12/11/98

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