Six-year Mussina offer is off table


ANAHEIM, Calif. - Having been rejected by the agent for pending free-agent pitcher Mike Mussina, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos has withdrawn a modified six-year, $72 million contract offer that would have represented the most lucrative deal ever bestowed by the franchise, industry sources said yesterday.

The deal represented an extension of the five-year, $60 million offer presented to Mussina and his agent, Arn Tellem, in February. Of the $12 million per season, $2 million was to be deferred at no interest. Angelos' modified proposal contained the same structure, sources said.

The offer was apparently made within the past two weeks. Tellem, who could not be reached for comment yesterday but plans to visit Mussina tonight, quickly rejected the deal because it did not meet parameters set by Mussina in spring training. Mussina is believed to be seeking a six-year contract approaching $84 million with no money deferred. But sources familiar with the negotiations said Mussina may be willing to modify his stance to accept deferred money within a deal averaging $14 million for at least five years.

Mussina refused to characterize the recent development as either positive or negative.

"It's the same," Mussina said without confirming Angelos' modified proposal. "Those numbers don't represent any change. We're where we've been since" spring training.

The proposal was Angelos' first since spring training but did nothing to improve the annual average value. As long ago as January, Mussina insisted he wasn't seeking to set the market for pitchers but intended to sign for market value. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown is in the second season of a record seven-year, $105 million deal. Mussina intended to use Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez's six-year, $75 million deal without deferred money as a baseline for negotiations.

He said six weeks ago that he was resigned to filing for free agency and entering the market as one of its two most attractive arms. New York Mets left-hander Mike Hampton is expected to challenge Mussina for primacy in the market but is believed committed to remaining in the National League. Mussina, 31, maintains that he still prefers to remain with the Orioles but not by re-signing below market value.

"Why is now different than then? Because it's one more year?" said Mussina. "If it wasn't OK to feel that five years at 10 [million guaranteed] and 2 [million deferred] was enough, then why is six years at 10 and 2 different?"

Mussina said he is satisfied with the security provided by a five-year deal but believes that the annual average value is deficient.

Angelos could not be reached for comment. However, sources familiar with the talks said he considered the addition of a sixth season to be a significant concession and was put off by Tellem's quick rejection. Mussina yesterday said he has ordered Tellem not to involve him in talks until the team meets his stated baseline.

Asked if a five-year, $60 million offer without deferred money would be significant, Mussina said, "We could work off of that."

The season continues to be one of contradictions for a pitcher who has won at least 13 games for eight consecutive years but now finds himself struggling to reach .500. His 9-13 record is contrasted by a 3.91 ERA that ranks fifth in the American League. Mussina's 211 2/3 innings pitched lead the league.

Mussina downplayed any effect that his uncertain status has had on his performance, citing his numbers aside from his record.

"Take the record out of the equation and look at the numbers," Mussina said. "It's virtually the same as last year and the year before. I can't control how many runs I get. I can only control how well I pitch. And that's been the same."

O's vs. Angels

Last night: Benji Gil's home run makes a hard-luck loser of Orioles' Pat Rapp, 2-1. Orioles today

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Edison International Field, Anaheim, Calif.

Time: 4:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jose Mercedes (11-5, 4.11) vs. Angels' Scott Karl (0-1, 9.00)

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