The Orioles' worst fears were realized yesterday when they learned not only that they would not be bringing Mark Teixeira home, but also that the coveted free-agent slugger would be signing with their most hated American League East rivals.
Teixeira, the first baseman who grew up in Severna Park as an Orioles fan, reached agreement yesterday on an eight-year, $180 million deal with the New York Yankees, who continued their mind-boggling offseason spending spree.
"We'd all prefer to have the player, but at the end of the day, it didn't work out that way. As they have demonstrated this offseason, the Yankees have resources that aren't available to 28 other clubs," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said.
"Obviously, [Teixeira signing with the Yankees] is not my first choice. But look, it is what it is. We still have to do what we have to do as an organization to get ourselves in a contending situation, which can be done. We just had a team win the American League championship [the Tampa Bay Rays] that did it that way. That's the model we're going to follow. You don't have to buy your way in."
The Orioles offered Teixeira, a 28-year-old switch-hitting first baseman, a seven-year, $140 million deal and told his agent, Scott Boras, they were willing to be flexible in negotiations. However, no serious negotiations took place after the offer despite Boras and MacPhail speaking several times, an indication that Teixeira wasn't especially interested in a homecoming.
According to team sources, the Orioles wouldn't have come close to the $180 million deal Teixeira received from the Yankees. Not wanting to get into a bidding war they knew they wouldn't win, the Orioles knew their best - and pretty much only - hope was the player's desire to become the face of a franchise that he grew up rooting for. But that desire never resonated with Teixeira. Orioles owner Peter Angelos didn't return calls seeking comment.
Boras, who told clubs he was looking for a 10-year, $200 million deal, called MacPhail yesterday afternoon and informed him that his client was going in a different direction. Teixeira also weighed offers from the Boston Red Sox and Washington Nationals. The Los Angeles Angels, the team Teixeira finished last season with, rescinded their offer. Boras has not returned repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment.
"I'll let them speak for themselves. They can characterize our conversations however they deem it. I know what was said on this end," said MacPhail, who met with Teixeira and Boras this month in Washington and made a presentation about the direction of the franchise. "It's not a knock against the area. Clearly, the ready-made contender was a factor that was not going to be altered by any subsequent amendments to the deal."
The Orioles' $140 million offer was nearly double the biggest deal the franchise has ever offered: the six-year, $72 million pact with shortstop Miguel Tejada before the 2004 season. It also was a deviation from MacPhail's rebuilding plan, based on building the franchise from the minor leagues up and focusing on scouting and developing. However, the Orioles deemed Teixeira, who has 203 home runs and is a .290 hitter over six major league seasons, as a special case, partly because of his Baltimore roots.
"The player was an exceptional player, and we sort of broke the rules trying to go after him," MacPhail said. "But really, the model that we have to follow just doesn't allow us to devote that much of our resources to one player, at least not at the present time."
Teixeira's signing with the Yankees is the latest disappointing news to Orioles fans, who are still smarting from ace Mike Mussina's defection to the Big Apple via free agency after the 2000 season. Orioles fans have been clamoring for Teixeira since the organization narrowly missed the opportunity to draft the slugging first baseman in 2001. Teixeira starred at Mount St. Joseph and then at Georgia Tech before being selected by the Texas Rangers as the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft, two spots before the Orioles chose.
Well aware of the fans' desire to add the hometown player, MacPhail said the team's offseason focus would not change despite the most recent development. The Orioles are in negotiations with the agents for pitchers Mark Hendrickson, Tim Redding, Braden Looper, Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara. They also are searching for a starting catcher as a bridge to top prospect Matt Wieters, with former Oriole Gregg Zaun near the top of their list.
MacPhail said those spots are more of a priority than finding a first baseman. The club could install Aubrey Huff, who started 23 games at first last year, as the team's everyday first baseman. They also have had trade discussions to fill the vacancy, with the Texas Rangers' Hank Blalock among their targets. Kevin Millar, their everyday first baseman last season, Eric Hinske, Doug Mientkiewicz and Sean Casey are among the free-agent options.
Slugger Adam Dunn, who has hit 40 or more home runs for five straight seasons, is also a free-agent option, though his price would probably have to come down significantly for the Orioles to get involved in the bidding.
"We did not allow this to sidetrack our other endeavors," MacPhail said. "We're focusing on our pitching and catching primarily at this point."
When the New York Yankees won the sweepstakes for free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira yesterday, it marked the second time they derailed the Orioles' quest to acquire the Mount St. Joseph alumnus. Even when the Orioles win against the Yankees, they actually lose.
The Orioles and Texas Rangers entered the last weekend of the 2000 season with 71-88 records. Playing out the string at Camden Yards, the Orioles swept a three-game series against the Yankees.
Meanwhile, Texas absorbed a season-closing three-game sweep at the hands of the Oakland Athletics. Thus, the Rangers were awarded the fifth pick in the 2001 draft and the Orioles settled for seventh (the Montreal Expos picked sixth as selections were alternated between the American League and National League).
Two picks after the Rangers snared Teixeira and three picks after the Philadelphia Phillies' selection of pitcher Gavin Floyd, one of Teixeira's neighbors, the Orioles drafted Chris Smith, a left-handed pitcher out of Cumberland (Tenn.) University.
Smith never played in a major league game, while it didn't take long for Teixeira to develop into one of the top young power hitters in the game.