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Sexson rises as Orioles' best bet


ANAHEIM, Calif. - After losing out to the New York Yankees on Carl Pavano and sputtering in their attempts to grab Carlos Delgado and Tim Hudson, the Orioles focused their efforts yesterday on signing free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson.

The 6-foot-8 Sexson dropped by the Anaheim Marriott on Day 2 of the winter meetings and joined agent Casey Close for a meeting in the Orioles' suite. The Orioles have already made at least one offer to Sexson, and a team source said it was for four years.

Close said there were five teams in the running for Sexson but said the meeting with the Orioles went very well. Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said it sounded like Sexson could reach a decision fairly soon.

"We talked about him maybe making a trip to Baltimore [to finalize the deal], if things went smoothly," Flanagan said.

But unlike Pavano, who visited Camden Yards on a six-city tour before choosing the Yankees yesterday, Sexson would only come to Baltimore if the sides were close to completing a deal, Close said.

Still the Orioles came away from the meeting feeling very encouraged at a time when they needed some good news.

They made Pavano one final offer Friday night - four years, $40 million - but the Yankees appeared to close the deal with a fifth-year offer that would bring the guaranteed portion of Pavano's contract to $42 million.

After getting that offer, Pavano instructed his agent, Scott Shapiro, to finish the agreement with the Yankees. The sides were working out the details last night. Shapiro called the Orioles yesterday to tell them Pavano was probably headed to New York, where he could pitch at Yankee Stadium, an hour from his parents' Connecticut home.

"We don't have any regrets," Flanagan said. "We're ready to move on."

The Orioles met with Delgado's agent, David Sloane, on Friday and a team official said they were stunned to learn that Delgado's initial asking price was for four years and about $64 million. The Orioles had offered three years, $30 million, and the Seattle Mariners reportedly offered four years, $44 million.

An Orioles official said they weren't crazy about offering Delgado four years because he's already 32, while Sexson doesn't turn 30 until later this month.

Sexson hit 45 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001 and 2003 before getting traded last year to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a nine-player deal. Sexson hit nine home runs in 23 games with Arizona this year, as his season was cut short after he tore his left labrum on a checked swing.

After trying to rehab the injury without surgery, Sexson went under the knife in May, but Close said the slugger has completely regained his strength and form. Close said he thinks Sexson may be in the best shape of his life, and Sexson certainly looked the part as he greeted old friends in the hotel lobby.

For the Orioles, Sexson seemed to emerge as their most likely offseason acquisition. On Friday, they told agent Scott Boras they were interested in free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who is recovering from a second knee surgery.

Boras told them Ordonez will be ready to start doing baseball exercises in mid-January and may be willing to work out for them at Camden Yards if they're interested. Much of that will hinge on whether the Orioles land Sexson or Delgado.

Any of those moves would bolster the Orioles' offense, but they still have serious pitching concerns, and Flanagan said beyond Pavano, they weren't especially interested in any of the remaining free-agent starters. Flanagan said any upgrade to the rotation would probably come through a trade.

But their talks with the Oakland Athletics seemed to reach a stalemate yesterday.

NOTE: The Orioles and Texas Rangers yesterday discussed a trade that would send Matt Riley to Texas for an undisclosed player, but as of last night, no deal appeared close. ... The Orioles also met yesterday with agent Fernando Cuza, whose current free-agent clients include Pedro Martinez, Odalis Perez and Moises Alou. With Martinez likely headed to either the Boston Red Sox or New York Mets, the Orioles did not even discuss him. The talks centered on Perez, a 27-year-old left-handed pitcher, and Alou, a 38-year-old outfielder.

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