The Orioles announced Thursday that they won't exercise third baseman Melvin Mora's $8 million option for the 2010 season, an expected move that will likely end the tenure of one of their most productive and popular players over the past decade.
The team could try to re-sign him for less, but that appears unlikely with Mora coming off one of the worst offensive seasons of his career and both sides seemingly ready to head in different directions.
"We'll see how the offseason unfolds," president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "There are a lot of twists and turns. You never say never."
In a series of roster moves Thursday, the Orioles also declined the $850,000 option on catcher Chad Moeller, whom they hope to sign to a minor league deal, and outrighted outfielder Jeff Fiorentino, catcher Guillermo Rodriguez and pitchers Chris Lambert and Jim Miller after all four cleared waivers. They lost left-handed reliever Sean Henn to the Toronto Blue Jays on a waiver claim.
By declining Mora's option, the Orioles will pay a $1 million buyout and now look to add a third baseman via trade or free agency. The Orioles also could opt to use Ty Wigginton at third until they deem Josh Bell - the prized prospect who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in July in the George Sherrill trade - ready for the major leagues.
Mora, acquired by the Orioles in July 2000 in a trade with the New York Mets, is headed for free agency and must deal with not knowing where he'll be when the 2010 seasons begins.
"I always talk to my wife about the Orioles," said Mora in a phone interview from his native Venezuela. "We were just talking about how I had a great career here and I'm thinking I'm going to die an Oriole. That was the reason I signed a long-term contract, because I wanted to die an Oriole."
Mora, who will turn 38 in February, acknowledged that the Orioles could still reach out to him in free agency but said it's "something I have to think about and discuss." He said he wasn't surprised the Orioles were declining his option, a move that had become little more than a formality.
"When you go all the way through the season without having a conversation with your general manager about your contract, I pretty much knew," said Mora, who had been the longest-tenured Oriole, a distinction that now goes to second baseman Brian Roberts. "The first time I stepped on the field at spring training, I knew it. The great numbers I put up [in 2008], and they didn't do something with [my contract]. I'm not stupid."
It was a difficult 2009 campaign for Mora, who batted .260 with eight homers and 48 RBIs in 125 games a season after hitting .285 with 23 homers and 104 RBIs to reverse downward trends in his career numbers.
Mora clashed with manager Dave Trembley over what he perceived as a lack of respect. The Orioles tried to trade Mora at the player's request but found no takers. They opted to let Mora finish the season, as they had no major league-ready third baseman in the minor leagues and they didn't want to end his productive tenure with the organization on such a bitter note.
Mora played 1,256 games for the franchise, transforming from a valuable utility player to a two-time All-Star third baseman. He is in the top 10 in team history in hits, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, doubles, total bases and at-bats.
Mora also became one of the faces of the organization through his work on and off the field. His wife, Gisel, gave birth to quintuplets during the 2001 season at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the family established Harford County as its year-round home and was involved in numerous charities in the area.
In the Orioles' 2009 season finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, Mora went 0-for-2 before being removed from the game for a pinch hitter. After the bottom of the sixth inning, Mora stepped out of the dugout and acknowledged a brief standing ovation by tapping his heart and pointing to his family.
"I'll never close my doors to the Orioles," Mora said. "I still have a lot of people in the Orioles organization who love me."
MacPhail said declining Moeller's option was more of a 40-man roster decision, and the Orioles have offered the veteran catcher a minor league deal at the same rate he would have received had they picked up his option. "I was disappointed," Moeller said, "but [MacPhail] has to do what he thinks is best for the organization. I understand that. I'm going to look to see what options are available, and if there is nothing better as far as a guaranteed major league job, I'll probably be back."
Where Mora ranks in O's history
Here's a look at Melvin Mora's career numbers with the Orioles and where he ranks on the club's all-time list:
Hits: 1,323 (9th)
Runs: 709 (9th)
Total bases: 2,073 (8th)
At-bats: 4,733 (10th)
Doubles: 252 (7th)
Homers: 158 (9th)
RBIs: 662 (8th)
Extra-base hits: 422 (10th)