While representatives for the New York Mets spent three hours yesterday meeting with free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado in Puerto Rico, Orioles executives expressed confidence that they're still in the game - even as it shifted to another country.
Team officials said they sent a modified offer to Delgado's agent, David Sloane, last month for $30 million over three years, but a source familiar with the negotiations said that Sloane never received it. He still was working with the three-year, $25 million offer made before the winter meetings as a starting point.
When contacted last night about the number of bids from the Orioles, Sloane said: "We've received one offer and one offer only."
A club official indicated that the Orioles have the flexibility to increase their second offer once the market becomes more clear. In the meantime, they're waiting to receive a firm contract figure rather than start engaging in a "blind auction" and risk bidding against themselves.
"I can't say we have a limit," the official said.
Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Omar Minaya met with Delgado and Sloane yesterday, and officials from the Texas Rangers will take their turn today.
"Everything went extremely well," Sloane said. "Having Jeff Wilpon join us for this meeting made it possible to discuss the issues regarding our respective proposals that we felt needed clarification.
"The better understanding we now have as to the challenges making this deal presents will certainly make it easier for us to proceed. I anticipate having further conversations with Omar very soon in an attempt to move things forward from here."
The Florida Marlins, the fourth team negotiating with Sloane, have a three-year, $35 million offer on the table. "We'd go there in a heartbeat," said the Orioles official, "if we thought that would get it done."
Sloane contacted the Orioles first when the free-agent market opened, and they were receptive, making Delgado an early target for a lineup in search of an impact first baseman.
The Orioles have no immediate plans to visit Delgado in San Juan, and they seem unconcerned the Mets and Rangers made the trip. They are kept abreast of Delgado's schedule, eliminating any surprises, and "we didn't sense there was anything that couldn't wait until next week," another Orioles official said.
"Will we be able to be in this game? Our perception is yes."
"If anything, the ball's sort of in their court," he said. "I think that's what happens sometimes. It's who has the last move."
Meanwhile, the Orioles don't expect free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez to sign with anybody before February.
Ordonez had his left knee examined on Jan. 6, and he's supposed to start full athletic workouts sometime this week. The Orioles have seen some of his medical records but are waiting until the rest become available.
Ordonez underwent two surgeries last season to repair torn cartilage in the knee, the second one in September in Vienna, Austria, and underwent shock-wave therapy because the knee had been afflicted with bone-marrow edema. His agent, Scott Boras, who wasn't available to comment yesterday, has insisted no other damage was found, but many teams are skeptical.
A source familiar with Ordonez's rehabilitation said one doctor estimated the outfielder's knee will be 75 percent healed by the start of spring training, with no assurances he'll make a full recovery.
The Orioles must determine whether the trauma to the bone occurred in a weight-bearing area. That's why teams are placing greater importance on his medical records than his on-field activities, which could cause the knee to swell the next day without anyone knowing it.
"If it's not in that weight-bearing area, most people feel it will be 100 percent," said a baseball executive. "If it is, it may never be again. We're talking millimeters."
Some Orioles officials had Ordonez rated higher than Carlos Beltran, who signed a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets. But the longer it takes for Ordonez to prove his health, the more likely it becomes that he settles for a one-year contract, creatively structured with incentives to provide for a significant bump while also protecting the team that signs him.
The Orioles will be especially cautious after paying David Segui $28 million over four years, only to have various injuries put him on the disabled list eight times and limit him to 193 games. Segui's contract ran out after the 2004 season.
NOTE: The Orioles should have a better idea today whether they can sign reliever Steve Reed, who pitched for the Colorado Rockies last season. Reed, who turns 39 in March, would give the Orioles another right-handed setup man after signing Jay Witasick to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.