Orioles retain Sexson hopes


ANAHEIM, Calif. - Even though it looked like the Orioles had suffered another disappointment last night, as free-agent first baseman Richie Sexson moved closer to a deal with the Seattle Mariners, Orioles officials had not given up hope.

Vice president Mike Flanagan said the team has a meeting scheduled with Sexson's agent this morning after the Rule 5 draft, and as of late last night the club was convinced it was still in the running.

This contradicted intense speculation at the winter meetings that Sexson, who had 45 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2001 and 2003 before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, had agreed to terms with the Mariners, pending a physical examination. Sexson called Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli last night thanking him for the team's efforts after the team made what was believed to be a four-year offer worth at least $40 million.

The Orioles continued to pursue free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado, who has already balked at their three-year, $30 million offer. Delgado is believed to be seeking a four-year deal worth upward of $60 million. The sides spoke yesterday and were expected to speak late last night.

Other teams in the hunt for Delgado included the New York Mets and Mariners, who have said they would like to sign both Delgado and Sexson, even if it means using Sexson in left field.

On another front, the Orioles awoke yesterday to news that the Los Angeles Dodgers had completed a trade for Oakland Athletics pitcher Tim Hudson. But last night at 6:30 (Eastern), Orioles officials were in Billy Beane's suite at the Anaheim Marriott, discussing more trade proposals for Hudson with the A's general manager. The Hudson ball was still in the air, and the Orioles insisted they had no idea where it would land.

The Orioles have also discussed a trade for A's left-hander Barry Zito, but their preference is Hudson.

"We keep grinding until a deal is done," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said, declining to get into specifics.

While the free-agent market continues to pose problems for the Orioles, they have been pleased with the trade market, as other teams continue to show interest in their young pitchers.

According to baseball sources, Oakland held firm on its asking price for Hudson: Erik Bedard, John Maine and Hayden Penn. The Orioles told Beane they still won't do that for Hudson without getting a 72-hour window to negotiate a contract extension with the right-hander because he will be a free agent after 2005.

The Orioles continued to try to steer Beane toward some of their second-tier prospects. Beane left them with no indication of which way he was leaning. Later in the evening, Dodgers officials said they still had no plans to make any announcements, so there were no firm indications the Hudson deal was done.

Yesterday, a few other teams came out of the woodwork, figuring the Orioles may be willing to trade for pitching after losing out on Hudson.

One of those teams was the Florida Marlins, and the sides discussed A.J. Burnett, another pitcher who will be a free agent after the 2005 season. Once again, the Marlins tried to get the Orioles to part with their young pitching, and once again the Orioles declined.

Burnett, who turns 28 on Jan. 3, returned from reconstructive elbow ligament surgery last season and looked like he hadn't missed a step, going 7-6 with a 3.67 ERA. The hard-throwing right-hander made $2.5 million last season and is eligible for arbitration this year.

"New things have come up today that are intriguing," Beattie said, speaking only in general terms. "We've got a few things going on, some that are minor, some that are more important."

According to baseball sources, the Orioles tried to dangle left-hander Matt Riley to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Kevin Mench but were quickly rebuffed. Still, Texas is another team to watch as teams continue to pursue the Orioles' young pitching.

Orioles officials say Bedard and Daniel Cabrera have drawn the most interest. Beattie said Cabrera was throwing well in the Dominican winter league but returned to Baltimore last week with shinsplints. The injury isn't a serious concern.

NOTES: The Chicago Cubs have tried gauging the Orioles' interest in right fielder Sammy Sosa at the winter meetings, but the Orioles continue to resist their overtures. Sosa has a contract that would pay him $35 million over the next two years if he is traded. ... Besides looking for a front-line starting pitcher and a slugger for the middle of their order, the Orioles have also been looking for a right-handed setup specialist to replace the injured Jason Grimsley. Beattie spoke with agent Barry Praver about Jim Mecir, who went 0-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 65 games for the Athletics last season and made $3.3 million. The Orioles expect to have several more relief options after Dec. 20, the date for teams to non-tender players.

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