After receiving indications that the market for free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado was starting to stir yesterday, the Orioles retrenched to consider making him a new offer.
Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie spoke by telephone with Delgado's agent, David Sloane, and the sides agreed to talk again in the coming days.
The talks had been stagnant for weeks, as the Orioles waited for Delgado's market to establish itself. After making one offer, they didn't want to bid against themselves, and other teams were slow to move on him, as well.
Yesterday, Sloane said the situation was changing.
"We don't want to get too specific, but just since the first of the year, it seems the contacts with ballclubs and the directions those contacts are taking are picking up," Sloane said. "And we would anticipate there would be a lot more movement in the next week or two than there has been for the past month."
Sloane declined to say which teams had stepped up their efforts to land Delgado, but the New York Mets, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers were among the possibilities.
A month ago, the Orioles and Delgado looked like a promising match: He, with the powerful, left-handed bat and familiar American League East ties. They, with the hole at first base and the short right-field porch at Camden Yards.
But in mid-December, the Orioles made a preliminary offer to Delgado, believed to be for three years at less than $30 million, and it served as a non-starter for negotiations.
Delgado's last contract with Toronto was for four years, $68 million. While playing under that deal, he averaged 36.5 home runs and 113.5 RBIs per season. At 32, he saw no reason to take such a big pay cut, and teams such as the Orioles who were hoping to get him for a discounted price backed away.
Gradually, the market set itself at a level above what the Orioles expected. Big sluggers like Delgado were getting big bucks again. Troy Glaus got $45 million over four years from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Seattle Mariners signed Richie Sexson to a four-year, $50 million deal and then gave Adrian Beltre five years for $64 million.
The Orioles thought Delgado would wait to see what Carlos Beltran, the top free agent on the market, got before signing his own deal. But yesterday, industry sources said Delgado was ready to move, even with Beltran still unsigned.
A key development came last week, when the New York Yankees signed first baseman Tino Martinez. Knowing they wouldn't have to bid against the Yankees for Delgado's services, several teams pushed forward with their interest.
The Orioles also made note of the Martinez development, but they continued to be coy about their interest in Delgado.
"He's still on the radar," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said in a phone interview from his office yesterday. "We're talking to teams about other [trade] possibilities, too."
Without revealing specifics, Flanagan said the Orioles could still acquire a run-producing bat through a trade if they don't sign Delgado. They have also been pursuing trades for a front-line pitcher after missing out on free-agent starter Carl Pavano.
But six weeks from spring training, it has been a very quiet offseason for the Orioles. On Sunday, they will be holding their annual FanFest at the Convention Center, and for now, the 2005 team they'll be promoting is very similar to the 2004 version.
Flanagan said the front office doesn't feel any added pressure to make a big move. Still committed to upgrading the roster, the Orioles will strike when the time and price are right.
"I think things will accelerate in the next two weeks," Flanagan said.