Orioles strike out in bid for Delgado

The tug-of-war for Carlos Delgado ended yesterday afternoon when the free-agent first baseman agreed in principle to a four-year, $52 million deal with the Florida Marlins, leaving the Orioles on the seat of their pants but confident that they did everything within reason to pull him into Baltimore.

Delgado's contract includes a vesting option for 2009 based on games played that could increase the total value of Delgado's contract to a reported $64 million, with none of the money deferred.


The Orioles twice increased their initial three-year, $25 million offer, which came before the winter meetings and served as a starting point for negotiations with agent David Sloane. They went to $30 million over three years, and later modified the offer to $48 million over four years.

Majority owner Peter Angelos praised team executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan last night for "doing the best they could" and voiced more concerns over rising salaries and the ramifications of financial imbalance.


"The [Orioles'] offers, I thought, certainly were generous, and some might think beyond what they should have been," Angelos said. "They're trying to improve the club and demonstrate to fans that we're doing everything we can to make the club competitive with Boston and New York, and we're heading in that direction.

"But the market needs to be reassessed. The more millions that are squandered, the more fans will have to pay through increased ticket prices and concessions. Major League Baseball has to come to grips with the crisis it's in.

"These salaries are beyond what 90 percent of the teams are able to pay. It's a problem that has to be dealt with in the future."

By 4 p.m. yesterday, when team officials still hadn't heard from Sloane, it became apparent that Delgado was headed elsewhere. The news broke a short time later, leaving the Orioles without a player who favored them so much that Sloane contacted them first when the free-agent market opened.

"You can say I'm disappointed," Angelos said, "but on the other hand, I'm pleased that we're not party to this financial insanity that has taken hold of the game."

The deal with the Marlins is expected to become official today after Delgado, 32, passes his physical and the two sides agree to contract language.

"I wouldn't try to characterize why [Delgado] made his decision," Beattie said, "but we did everything we could to try to get it done - in some cases, above and beyond what we were prepared to do to make it happen. We're disappointed."

Though reports out of New York had the Orioles' last offer at $51 million, team officials confirmed that they held firm at $48 million. Sloane never gave them a chance to respond to the Marlins' final proposal.


"We talked a couple times [Monday] night," Beattie said. "We knew where we stood, and he knew where we stood."

In an e-mail yesterday, Sloane wrote: "From Day 1, we have told everyone that Carlos would make his choice based on where he felt he had the best chance to win a World Series. I'm proud to say that is exactly why he made the choice he made."

The New York Mets also presented a four-year, $52 million offer after Sloane temporarily eliminated them from consideration late Sunday night, but Delgado chose to play closer to his home in Puerto Rico.

The fourth team in the bidding, the Texas Rangers, dropped out Sunday night after Sloane refused to give them an immediate answer to their four-year, $48 million proposal, and when Delgado balked at being the primary designated hitter.

For a brief time this week, with the Rangers and Mets out of the picture, the Orioles appeared to be Delgado's best option. But the Mets sprung to life and the Marlins shocked the industry by making substantial changes to their three-year, $36 million proposal, handing out the richest contract in franchise history and destroying their budget-conscious image.

"We did everything we felt was appropriate," Beattie said. "We don't feel like it got away from us. We felt like we were very competitive, but you're still disappointed. Whether we came in second or third, it doesn't matter."


With the Delgado drama behind them, the Orioles will seek other measures to add a bat to their lineup and make an impact acquisition beyond signing relievers Steve Kline and Steve Reed and utility infielder Chris Gomez. Reliever Jorge Julio, who is in line to receive a substantial raise in arbitration, is the Orioles' primary trade bait.

Asked how they'd fill first base, Beattie said: "We have a few things we're exploring, not only there but in other areas. We've been doing that and will continue to do that. If we had been able to sign him, that would have shut down some of those things."

Interest remains in free-agent outfielder Magglio Ordonez, who met with the Detroit Tigers on Monday and also is expected to be courted by the Mets, Rangers and Chicago Cubs. Because Ordonez underwent two surgeries on his left knee in 2004 and was treated for bone marrow edema, the Orioles want to check all the medical reports rather than the partial set they received from agent Scott Boras.

"We're still looking for information," Beattie said. "From our point of view, a workout probably isn't going to tell us as much as we need to know from the doctors."