The Orioles took another step, albeit small, in pursuit of free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado this week, when they persuaded his agent to submit a proposal outlining the slugger's contract desires.
Team officials yesterday characterized what they saw as a "starting point" for negotiations that figure to heat up next week.
"We're still having conversations with [his agent, David Sloane]," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said, declining to enter into specifics.
In mid-December, the Orioles made Delgado an offer for three years and what is believed to be less than $30 million. Delgado did not respond, and the talks went nowhere for weeks.
But the Orioles were one of at least three teams to request a contract proposal from Delgado this week, with the New York Mets and Texas Rangers among the other interested parties, according to industry sources.
Though Sloane and Orioles officials declined to say exactly what his contract wishes are, Delgado is believed to be seeking a four- or five-year deal worth upward of $15 million a season.
So to get Delgado signed, the Orioles would have to close a sizable gap. The next step, presumably, would be for the Orioles to extend a new offer.
But the negotiations could wait until the top free agent on the market, Carlos Beltran, signs his long-awaited deal. The Houston Astros face a Saturday night deadline to re-sign Beltran or risk losing him until May 1, and that deadline should also help spur the Mets to make their best offer.
Beltran's agent, Scott Boras, told the New York Post there were five teams willing to meet his client's starting point for negotiations - seven years, $112 million - but the Orioles aren't one of them. Yesterday, a top Orioles official said, "We're not in on Beltran."
But where Beltran lands, and for how much, could help determine Delgado's destination. Sloane said Delgado isn't getting impatient.
"Carlos is an extremely intelligent businessman, and he's making a business decision," Sloane said. "This is not an emotional decision for him, and it's not a thing where he's trying to make his first fortune. He's already made that."
Delgado, 32, averaged 38 home runs and 120 RBIs over the past seven years with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in the 2003 American League Most Valuable Player voting, and he finished fourth in the 2000 MVP voting.
The Orioles, who are looking for a first baseman, covet Delgado's left-handed bat, but their first offer paled in comparison to a deal he just finished with the Blue Jays - four years at $17 million a season.
Baseball salaries have fallen dramatically since Delgado signed that deal in October 2000, but to the Orioles' chagrin, his market spiked again last month.
Troy Glaus signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $11.25 million a year, Richie Sexson got $12.5 million a year from the Seattle Mariners, and Adrian Beltre got $12.8 million a year from the Mariners.
Sloane told the Toronto Star he views Delgado's market as somewhere between Beltre and Beltran, meaning he is looking for at least $12.8 million a year.
The Orioles have yet to make a big-name acquisition this offseason, but Beattie said the team still likes how it is positioned, especially on the trade front. Asked if the Orioles would rule out signing a big free agent, Beattie said, "We haven't ruled out anything."