Mar 28 2000
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- With the likelihood of an agreement before Opening Day diminishing by the hour, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos has modified his five-year contract proposal to starting pitcher Mike Mussina, bumping the offer's total value from $50 million to $60 million, according to club and industry sources familiar with the negotiations.
The offer also includes significant money deferred without interest -- about $2 million a season, according to sources -- that may also pose a significant hurdle to a deal.
Angelos is vacationing in Europe and could not be reached to comment. Executive vice president John Angelos did not return calls last night.
Before yesterday's morning workout, Mussina downplayed the chance for a sudden breakthrough and minimized its effect on the eventual outcome of talks.
"We've never set artificial deadlines so it's not a big deal," he said. "Obviously, you'd like to get something done, but there's no reason for alarm on our part if it takes longer."
Angelos opened negotiations with a five-year, $50 million offer two weeks before spring training. The offer remained largely untouched until he met for two hours with Mussina's agent, Arn Tellem, at the team's spring headquarters on March 18. Club officials were encouraged by the flexibility shown by Tellem and believed "it's only a matter of time" before an extension was agreed upon. Tellem and Angelos have spoken since but apparently made little headway.
"I think the [March 18] session produced some progress," said Mussina, who said he has not spoken with his agent in recent days. "It should help things along in the next session."
Scheduled to return to Baltimore on Wednesday, Angelos may use the four-day window before Opening Day to further intensify talks.
Mussina, last year's Cy Young Award runner-up, apparently is using Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez's six-year, $75 million contract as a baseline. The Orioles remain one year and $500,000 per season shy of reaching that level.
Entering his 10th season in Baltimore, Mussina has consistently maintained he would not attempt to set the marketplace with his negotiations but was not "uncomfortable" with the idea of becoming a free agent. The stance contrasts his consternation three years ago when he signed a three-year, $20.45 million extension that brought widespread criticism from within the labor fraternity.
Mussina now perceives his value as between Martinez's $12.5 million average and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown's $15 million average. A $14 million average annual value is widely projected for Mussina.
Tellem has communicated a desire for at least a six-year framework to Angelos, who has never awarded anything beyond a five-year contract to any player. Mussina may argue his age, 31, and Brown's watershed deal justify breaking with organizational policy.
"We've said all along we're not trying to make the market," said Mussina. "I think they know where we stand. Our position isn't seeking new ground."
Neither Martinez's nor Brown's contracts contain deferred money. Angelos' insistence that it be included in previous deals such as those signed by Rafael Palmeiro in 1994 and Albert Belle in 1998 could become a hindrance with Mussina should he adhere to his insistence for market value.
Mussina maintains there is no reason for him to sign quickly. He and New York Mets left-hander Mike Hampton are the marquee pending free-agent pitchers and rich franchises such as the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves are likely to target starting pitching next winter.
The longer the Orioles wait, the more Mussina might also be influenced by organizational uncertainty. The club must make a decision on pending free agents Charles Johnson, Mike Bordick, Cal Ripken and Will Clark. Johnson rejected an overture for a three-year deal while Bordick, Ripken and Clark have not yet been approached.
Recent history does not bode well for the club should talks drag through the season. While able to sign Mussina and starting pitcher Scott Erickson to extensions during the season, the Orioles lost Palmeiro and were forced to give Brady Anderson two additional years after waiting to intensify negotiations until after the season.
The club also lost left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes to the Seattle Mariners last winter when it failed to follow through on talks last spring. Rhodes received four years from the Mariners, while the Orioles refused to go beyond three.
Mike Mussina Fan Page