MINNEAPOLIS — MINNEAPOLIS - Orioles vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan picked up the telephone in his office last night at 9:15 and dispelled one of the most vicious trade rumors in baseball on the eve of the non-waiver trade deadline.
"We have not asked for the moon," Flanagan said.
Flanagan wasn't going to get into specifics, not with an assortment of deals still possible before the deadline hits today at 4 p.m.
But the Orioles still hadn't made a move last night, and there was a buzz throughout the industry that the team's asking prices were still too high.
Flanagan, executive vice president Jim Beattie and director of baseball administration Ed Kenney were unavailable to the media for long stretches yesterday, suggesting the team's top three decision-makers were up to something.
"It's been busy," Flanagan said. "At this point, we have nothing imminent, and we'll continue to talk."
The Orioles may not be asking for the moon, but club officials have made no secret it would take one or two potential stars to persuade them to move starting pitcher Sidney Ponson.
Though it's possible the Orioles will move a position player such as Melvin Mora (who has drawn serious interest from the Los Angeles Dodgers), Jeff Conine or Tony Batista (who is drawing serious interest from the Seattle Mariners), it's more likely any trade they make will involve Ponson or one of their other starting pitchers. Sending Pat Hentgen to the St. Louis Cardinals is a distinct possibility.
Yesterday, the market for Ponson appeared to be hinging on the destiny of another starting pitcher - the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jeff Suppan. The Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros have both expressed interest in Ponson, but both of them sounded like they were targeting Suppan first.
Suppan, 28, is making $500,000 this season with incentives for innings pitched. He is 10-7 with a 3.57 ERA and has an option remaining on his contract for next year at $4 million with a $500,000 buyout.
Ponson, 26, is making $4.25 million this season and will be eligible for free agency at season's end. The Orioles sent him out for his start last night, ending speculation that they didn't want to risk an injury to Ponson before the deadline.
He took the loss against the Minnesota Twins, dropping his record to 14-6 and raising his ERA to 3.77.
There have been reports out of Houston that the Orioles turned down one offer from the Astros for Ponson. Flanagan would not confirm that, but the Orioles are said to be interested in Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg, Triple-A outfielder Jason Lane and catching prospect John Buck, 23.
Houston's need for a frontline starting pitcher seemed to increase yesterday when starting pitcher Roy Oswalt went back on the disabled list with a groin injury. Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said he didn't want to trade for a pitcher unless it provided an upgrade over what the team already had.
Ponson and Suppan would seem to fit the bill.
By all indications, the Braves have yet to make a formal offer for Ponson, but have expressed a willingness to part with right-handed pitcher Jason Marquis and Triple-A third baseman Wilson Betemit. The Orioles have privately indicated it would take more than that to get Ponson.
The Cardinals, San Francisco Giants (who have been scouting Jason Johnson) and Boston Red Sox are also looking for starting pitching, and the Orioles could get an offer from each of them today. Flanagan said there was still nothing of substance on the table yesterday, but said some teams have indicated they will make their best offers today.