- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

Another free agent got away from the Baltimore Orioles.

Outfielder Cliff Floyd yesterday spurned Baltimore and other potential suitors to sign a four-year contract with the New York Mets worth at least $7million a season.

The Orioles had identified Floyd after their offer to Japanese outfielder Hideki Matsui was rebuffed in favor of the New York Yankees.

Talks between the Orioles and Floyd's representatives progressed quickly Thursday when the Orioles added to their offer to make it three years for about $19million (it had been two years plus an option year). Executive vice president Jim Beattie gave Floyd a deadline of 8 p.m. yesterday to accept Baltimore's multi-year offer.

Floyd signed well before then and didn't give the Orioles a chance to match the Mets.

"We certainly had the dollars right," said vice president Mike Flanagan.

With Matsui and Floyd signing elsewhere, that leaves catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the Orioles' most eagerly sought free agent acquisition, as the only one of their targeted players still available.

But no progress has been reported since Wednesday, when talks broke off because the two sides were too far apart to even negotiate salary. Reports indicate that Jeff Moorad, Rodriguez's agent, is exploring the option of his client playing the season in Japan because there were few substantial offers in major league baseball.

The Orioles' reported $5million to $7million offer a season "is a standing offer," Flanagan said. "We had a feeling Pudge wouldn't jump at the first thing. With us having a pulse on the market, it's not a lowball offer. It's a significant offer."

Said Beattie: "Right now the conversations are very limited, if any at all. It's just a matter of, more than anything, from our perspective, for something to proceed, they'd have to come to a realization that this is the market, this is where it is. We're open to conversations, but it has to be closer to our numbers than theirs, from our perspective."

Also yesterday, the Orioles tendered contracts to all eligible players except outfielder Chris Singleton, who becomes a free agent. Singleton hit .262, the fourth-best average of any Orioles regular, with 30 doubles and 50 RBI last season but made $1.4million, a sum he likely could have pushed over $2million if he chose to go to arbitration. Singleton became expendable with the number of outfielders the Orioles have on the roster and their desire to move Gary Matthews to center, Singleton's primary position, from right field.

Former shortstop Mike Bordick, who could not reach an agreement with the team on a new contract, signed with division rival Toronto yesterday. Bordick signed a one-year deal for $1million after turning down a one-year contract for $1.5million from the Orioles two weeks ago, saying it was too low.

Beattie and Flanagan, the Orioles' new player personnel team, have remained steadfast in two-plus weeks on the job in offering a player what they believe he is worth and, by and large, sticking to that value. They also remain disciplined enough to not mortgage any of the club's future in order to sign a high-priced free agent. Flanagan said yesterday there are plenty of other avenues to pursue a player with some middle-of-the-lineup power, from trades to players who were not tendered contracts before yesterday's midnight deadline.

Yesterday's deadline to tender offers to players whose contracts expired after last season yielded some outfielders whom the Orioles may choose to pursue, among them Jose Cruz Jr. (18 homers, 70 RBI in '02 with Toronto) and Robert Fick (17 homers, 63 RBI with Detroit). Still, neither is the caliber of Floyd, who had 28 homers and 79 RBI.

The Orioles had expressed interest in one-time free agent Frank Thomas early this offseason before the hulking first baseman/designated hitter re-signed with the Chicago White Sox. Now two of their recent targets have not been reeled in and they are not actively negotiating with the third. Beattie and Flanagan remain patient, though.

"Free agency is the fastest way to add bats," Flanagan said. "But there are other ways. There are plenty of teams with bats. We're not going to mortgage our future on emotion. For the right player, we're willing to go the extra step."

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