Delgado went to highest bidder, but should O's fans feel bitter?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ONCE AGAIN, my faith in humanity has been restored. Free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado has agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract with the Florida Marlins that was never about the money.

"From Day One, 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," agent David Sloane wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. "I'm proud to say that is exactly why he made the choice he made."

I'm assuming that Sloane wrote those words in an e-mail because he knew he wouldn't be able to say them out loud without laughing.

Don't get me wrong. The Marlins stepped up this week, and they've won a pair of World Series over the past eight years, which is an amazing accomplishment in a division dominated by the Atlanta Braves and in a South Florida baseball market that isn't exactly bursting with ticket and broadcast revenue.

They'll certainly be more competitive in the National League East with Delgado -- that's why they went outside their budget to sign him -- but the notion that he made the choice based on which team had the best chance to win a world title is, well, about as thin as his rationale for not standing during "God Bless America."

(Lest anyone forget, I have regularly defended Delgado's right to sit out the seventh-inning stretch on principle, but his decision to use that moment to protest the war in Iraq defies logic, because the song is played to commemorate the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.)

Here are a few more logical inconsistencies for you to chew on:

If Delgado thought the best chance of playing in the World Series was in Florida, why was Sloane so obviously angry at the Orioles for being so slow to overbid the Marlins' $35 million deal a couple of weeks ago?

If the Marlins were the team all along, then why did Delgado instruct Sloane in November to contact the Orioles first?

And, of course, if it wasn't about the money, was it just a coincidence that the team with the "best chance to reach the World Series" also ended up offering the biggest contract?

What Sloane should have said was the Marlins demonstrated they wanted Delgado the most, which would be a pretty compelling reason to sign there -- and a perfect excuse to squeeze every possible penny out of the process.

Orioles officials say they did everything they could to sign Delgado -- except offer $53 million for four years.

Once again, I'm conflicted. I know this offseason has been a huge disappointment to Orioles fans, who were led to believe the Orioles would pull out all the stops to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, but I never thought Delgado would make $50 million worth of difference in their chances of reaching the playoffs.

He's a great hitter, but the Orioles came into this winter badly in need of a marquee pitcher to anchor the starting rotation. If they had succeeded in acquiring Tim Hudson or another big name, it would have been considered a successful offseason no matter what else they did.

If they had signed Delgado, the same nagging questions about the pitching staff would still follow them to spring training. So, from here, there's still $48 million available for a top-name pitcher if Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan can put together a trade.

That appears to be out of the question at this late stage of the offseason, but other teams have pulled off complicated pitching deals, and the Orioles keep telling everyone about all the great young pitchers who might step up to help the club this year.

If the team is willing to package one or two of them with Jerry Hairston and Jorge Julio, there is probably someone out there who can help.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos continues to decry the "financial insanity" that has re-established its grip on the free-agent market, and he said Tuesday that he's glad that the Orioles didn't get caught up in it. The industry had shown surprising salary restraint over the past couple of years, only to lose control again this winter.

Still, the Orioles raised the expectations of their fans with the promise of a team that will compete for a wild-card berth this year, and they will never get to the playoffs by half-stepping.

Like I said, I'm conflicted.

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