Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The Baltimore Orioles should know this week, perhaps as early as today, whether their contract proposals to two of the big hitters remaining on the free agent market, Ivan Rodriguez and Jose Cruz Jr., will be accepted.

The club had Rodriguez’s agent, Jeff Moorad, in Baltimore for a meeting yesterday afternoon, and Moorad was expected to relay the results of the meeting to his client last night. The Orioles also have a formal offer out to former Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Cruz, and the club is awaiting word back from him.

The developments represent the most progress the Orioles have made with the two free agents this offseason, one dedicated largely to bringing in a power hitter. The club has had few serious talks with Rodriguez since mid-December, when he decided that Baltimore’s offer, believed to be a three-year deal worth about $6million to $8million a season, was too low after he made about $10million last season with the Texas Rangers. The two sides have talked since then, but no serious negotiations have occurred.

A report in a Puerto Rican newspaper late last week quoted Rodriguez as saying he was prepared to sign a one-year deal with Baltimore, but Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said Saturday they prefer to sign “Pudge” to a multiyear contract. Beattie called yesterday’s meeting a “good idea” and a step in the process.

“We just had conversations, trying to figure out what we’re going to do,” Beattie said. “We’ll see in the next day or two if it makes any sense [to keep talking] or if he has better offers.”

As for Cruz, the club has had on-and-off discussions with the sixth-year outfielder for the last month or so. Cruz, who hit .245 with 18 home runs and 70 RBI last season, was not tendered a contract by Toronto, making him a free agent. Cruz’s production dipped last season from his 2001 numbers, but he was considered a rising star coming out of the Seattle Mariners’ minor-league system and is only 28.

However, if the Orioles sign Cruz, they would be adding another piece to an already crowded position Marty Cordova, Jay Gibbons, Gary Matthews Jr., Melvin Mora and Chris Richard are all under contract for this season. Beattie told The Washington Times in late December that the club’s interest in Cruz was lukewarm because he was unsure of how much of an upgrade he would provide.

It appears that at the right price, though, the Orioles will take Cruz, a move that likely would trigger a trade or a roster move involving a current outfielder.

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