Beltran could clear O's path to Delgado

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On the same day that the Orioles tried to add a few more season-ticket holders through their yearly downtown promotion of the team, they also wondered if they lost a serious challenger to free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado.

Nobody knew for sure.

The New York Mets have reached agreement on a seven-year, $119 million contract with center fielder Carlos Beltran, and the two sides worked into late last night trying to structure his salaries for each season.

Beltran became the 10th player in baseball history to agree to a deal worth at least $100 million, and the first since Jason Giambi in 2001. The deal apparently will include an $11 million signing bonus.

Coupled with their acquisition of pitcher Pedro Martinez for $53 million over four years, the Mets might have taken themselves out of the running for Delgado, who remains a primary target for the Orioles.

Delgado's agent, David Sloane, submitted a proposal to the Orioles and at least two other teams last week that outlined the slugger's contract desires. Club officials characterized what they saw as a starting point for negotiations that are expected to resume today.

The Mets were regarded within the industry as a potentially significant bidder for Delgado, who averaged 38 homers and 120 RBIs over the past seven years with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Florida Marlins reportedly offered him a three-year contract worth slightly more than $30 million last week, and the Texas Rangers also have interest.

Appearing at yesterday's FanFest at the Baltimore Convention Center, Orioles executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan said they had no idea whether the agreement with Beltran would end the Mets' pursuit of Delgado. But industry sources said last night that Sloane will meet with the Mets by the end of the week.

"I don't know how it's going to affect us," Beattie said. "We're still going to go about our business. We're not going to really be in a bidding war with anybody on some particular players. We're going to try to figure out where we stand and try to make it work."

The Orioles' initial offer to Delgado is believed to be for three years and slightly less than $30 million. Delgado is believed to be seeking a four- or five-year deal worth upward of $15 million per season.

"The players out there of interest, we're still involved, and some of them are going a little more slowly than others. Sometimes, things just have to play out," Beattie said.

Right fielder Magglio Ordonez remains on the Orioles' radar, but he's weeks away from doing any baseball-related activities after a second surgery on his left knee in September. Beattie spoke with Ordonez's agent, Scott Boras, last week.

"We have seen some medical reports, but we don't think we have all the information," Beattie said. "I think that's going to be a while developing."

Beattie conceded that the Montreal Expos' move to Washington, the possible effect on the Orioles' revenue and the undetermined compensation to majority owner Peter Angelos have complicated the team's winter maneuverings.

"We can't just go out there without some sort of sense of where we are, what we can do," he said. "There are certain things we have to comply with. It has slowed us down. It has had an effect. We would be in a much better situation if we had an agreement with MLB right now. It's put us a little behind the eight-ball with respect to what we've been able to do."

In the meantime, many players who attended FanFest said they weren't discouraged that the Orioles' only additions have been reliever Steve Kline and utility infielder Chris Gomez.

"What we showed last year, especially after [pitching coach] Ray Miller came in, he basically put the pitching staff together and we were able to turn our season around a little bit," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "It was a bit late, but at least there's hope.

"I know the Yankees are trying to put together another team to win the World Series and the Red Sox are trying to defend, but I'm not sure that we can't compete with what we have. I think we can give them a run for their money."

Asked if the Orioles could compete if they didn't add another player, shortstop Miguel Tejada said, "Every year, every year."

"We have a great young team, and this year everybody's going to be more of a family," he said. "There were a lot of new players last year. Now, all those young kids will be more like veterans, and I think the team will be better.

"I'm going to play 162 games this season, and 12 or 13 games in the playoffs, too."

NOTES: Sidney Ponson, released from an Aruban jail last week after being detained 11 days for his alleged involvement in a fight on Christmas, will spend a few days in Baltimore and meet with the training staff at Camden Yards before returning to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He arrived here last night. ...

Beattie disputed a report in The New York Times that the Orioles made Ruben Sierra a two-year, $3.2 million offer before he re-signed with the Yankees. ...

Outfielder Luis Matos said he's fully recovered from surgery on Aug. 11 to repair a stress fracture in his right shin. "I'm running fine," he said. "I can start playing right now." ... Pitcher Kurt Ainsworth, who had surgery in June to remove inflamed tissue from his right elbow, is throwing off a flat surface and will move to a mound this week. "I feel 100 percent right now," said Ainsworth.

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