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O's Timing off on Mussina Deal

Tuesday, April 18, 2000

BALTIMORE The Baltimore Orioles' current contract offer to pitcher Mike Mussina of $60 million over five years apparently would have completed the deal had the team offered it to him last summer, Mussina said.

"Yeah, I would say [the Orioles' current offer] probably would have gotten it done" last summer, said Mussina, whose current contract expires at the end of this season.

In January, the Orioles opened with an offer of $42.5 million over five years, later increasing it to $50 million. Under the current offer of $60 million, $10 million would be deferred. However, Mussina's price tag has risen steadily the closer he gets to free agency. He now is believed to be seeking a contract worth about $15 million annually over five or six years. There has been no movement in negotiations in at least two weeks.

According to team and league sources, agent Arn Tellem and then-Orioles general manager Frank Wren last summer discussed the parameters of an extension for Mussina. The numbers used by Tellem then to outline Mussina's asking price were roughly the same as the Orioles' current offer, the sources said.

Wren made the proposal to Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos with the recommendation that the team get a deal done immediately, according to sources. But the Orioles made no firm offer until January, at which time Mussina was within a year of free agency and increasingly inclined to wait.

Wren was fired in November and is in arbitration with the team over the remainder of his contract; he declined to comment on the Mussina negotiations. Wren now is the Atlanta Braves' assistant general manager. Angelos did not return phone calls today.

Mussina's current contract, which was negotiated between Angelos and Mussina directly, was signed in May 1997 and pays Mussina $20.45 million over three years. It was immediately criticized by the players' union as being undervalued.

At the time, Mussina was interested in signing for five years, but was told the Orioles would not go longer than three. However, one year later, the Orioles signed pitcher Scott Erickson to a five-year extension.

"I thought it would be logical at that point for them to come to me again," Mussina said, "so they could lock up both of us" for five years.

Mussina, whose .673 winning percentage entering this season is the highest in baseball history among right-handed pitchers with at least 200 decisions, has expressed a desire to remain with the Orioles, but has said he has not set "artificial deadlines" to get a deal done. He also has said that he is not uncomfortable with talks continuing throughout the season.

However, if no deal is completed, Mussina and New York Mets left-hander Mike Hampton are expected to be the prized pitching targets of next winter's prodigious free agent class.

Mussina, 31, said he is not looking to "squeeze an extra dollar" from the Orioles. But his next contract could be his last major one, and some in the industry suspect that even if he re-signs with the Orioles, he can get an extra $10 million to $20 million by waiting.

At the same time, Mussina admitted there are other factors that will shape his decision, such as what happens with catcher Charles Johnson, a four-time Gold Glove winner who also will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season. The Orioles have offered Johnson a three-year contract, but he is seeking five years, and there have been no talks in more than a month.


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