ANAHEIM, Calif. - After starting free-agent pitcher Carl Pavano with a three-year offer, the Orioles got a deeper sense of the market yesterday and offered him a four-year pact worth about $40 million, baseball sources said.
And still, they realized that might not be enough.
During a frustrating day at the winter meetings, the Orioles were hit with a stark realization: The prices have skyrocketed. According to team sources, they also have a three-year, $30 million offer on the table for free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado, but will probably have to dig deeper to get him signed.
"We have said all along that we will have the discipline to walk away from something we feel will be too expensive for us," said Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie.
While the free-agent front looked bleak, the trade market brought its own frustrations. The Orioles remained one of a few serious contenders to land Oakland Athletics pitcher Tim Hudson, but A's general manager Billy Beane continued to drive a hard bargain.
Beane has declined to give the Orioles a 72-hour window to negotiate a contract extension with Hudson, who will be a free agent after the 2005 season. So the Orioles must decide whether it's worth giving up some of their best young talent for a pitcher who may only be with them for one season.
There has been speculation that Beane has been holding out for left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan. But that simply isn't true. Like Hudson, Ryan will be a free agent after next season, and Beane is looking for young players he can keep on his team at a minimal salary.
Getting Hudson would probably take left-handed starter Erik Bedard, second baseman Brian Roberts and a top prospect, such as 2003 first-round draft pick Nick Markakis. All that for one season of Hudson, unless the Orioles can later sway him to do a contract extension.
Hudson is looking for a four-year contract worth $12 million to $14 million per year, and a top Orioles official said that price is simply too high, especially if it meant surrendering Bedard, who will make about $325,000 next season.
Other teams in the bidding for Hudson include the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. Hudson, an Alabama native, is believed to prefer Atlanta or St. Louis, and may be willing to sign an extension in one of those two places for less money.
He may drive a harder bargain for the Orioles. So while the Cardinals or Braves could get him to stay for four years, $48 million, it may cost the Orioles closer to $56 million. That's the leverage Hudson has.
But some in the Orioles' organization are pushing the club to take a chance on Hudson with the hope he would come to Baltimore for one year and grow to love it, making it easier to persuade him to stay. Hudson, that camp feels, is a better gamble than anyone on the current free-agent market.
Hudson, 29, has a career record of 92-39, compared with 57-58 for Pavano.
The only apparent drawback to Hudson is a nagging hip injury that has bothered him for at least one small stretch in each of the past three seasons. He is a workhorse who averaged 238 innings pitched from 2001 to 2003 but was held to 188 2/3 innings this year.
Inside the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott, the rumor mill had the Orioles getting shut out on all those fronts yesterday. The Dodgers were said to be the leading candidates for Hudson with an offer that included prized young right-hander Edwin Jackson.
Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta, a former Beane assistant, seemed to have the inside track.
Meantime, Pavano had reportedly trimmed his list to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners - teams that all made offers in the four-year, $40 million range. Then came word that the Detroit Tigers had come in with a five-year offer.
Pavano's agent, Scott Shapiro, would not confirm any of those specifics, and he said none of the teams had been crossed off Pavano's list.
"There are substantial offers from all of the teams he's visited, and it's really going to come down to where he has the best chance to succeed," Shapiro said.
Pavano could have a decision before the weekend ends, but Shapiro said, "I'm not going to rush him. Where he signs is going to be a decision on where he lives for the next four or five years."
As of early yesterday, industry sources said the Orioles' best offer to Pavano was for three years, $25 million. That deal included a series of escalator clauses that would likely bring its value closer to $30 million. Shapiro spoke directly to Orioles owner Peter Angelos later in the day, spurring the club to make Pavano a four-year offer.
Speaking in general terms about the market, Beattie said, "I would say [the agents] feel a bit heartened by what's happened so far, and we've been a bit disheartened."
NOTE: Last night, the Orioles had their first meeting of the offseason with Scott Boras, whose current free-agent clients include Carlos Beltran, J.D. Drew and Jason Varitek. The Orioles expressed their interest in two of his other clients, outfielder Magglio Ordonez and pitcher Derek Lowe. Ordonez was limited to 52 games with a knee injury this season, and though the Chicago White Sox said they had concerns that it was a chronic injury, Boras said last night that it was simply a meniscus tear. The Orioles are one of several teams that have asked Boras to see the medical records.