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Orioles Lose Sexson, Turn Attention to Burnett

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page D07

BALTIMORE, Dec. 15 -- In his true diva way, Pedro Martinez must surely be chuckling that his signing with the New York Mets has created chaos in baseball, or at least in the American League East, where three teams are scrambling to make moves.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, according to one source close to the situation, have entered the fray for Oakland A's ace Tim Hudson while the Baltimore Orioles' bid appears to be losing momentum.

The Orioles have growing interest in talented Marlins right-hander A.J. Burnett, 27, who has family ties to Baltimore. (2002 Photo J. Pat Carter -- AP)

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The Orioles lost first baseman Richie Sexson, who signed a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners, and have been reluctant to meet Carlos Delgado's contract demands. They are considering other deals, which include a trade for Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett.

Martinez's departure allowed the Red Sox to sign shortstop Edgar Renteria to a four-year, $40 million deal, but sent Boston scrambling for another pitcher, a search that was intensified when Curt Schilling announced on a Boston radio station Tuesday that his surgically repaired ankle won't be fully healed by the start of the season. The Red Sox, who because of Renteria's signing are now able to part with shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez, made a strong push for Hudson yesterday.

"As of the morning, things turned upside down," said the source.

The Yankees, always wary of the Red Sox, decided to enter the bidding for Hudson and are trying to find a third team, believed to be the Los Angeles Dodgers, to make a deal possible.

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein did not return phone calls.

The Orioles have refused to budge from their proposal of left-hander Erik Bedard and two minor league pitchers for Hudson, who will be a free agent after the season and may just be a one-year rental. A safer choice may be Burnett, who would require less in a trade than Hudson, but is also a free agent after next year. The Orioles and Florida Marlins have begun preliminary discussions for Burnett, who has close ties to the Baltimore area and said, through agent Darek Braunecker, that he would be open to signing a contract extension. Burnett's wife is from Baltimore and the couple rented a house near the area this offseason.

"They spent the entire month of November in Baltimore and he loved it," Braunecker said. "There was a certain comfort level with the area."

Burnett, 27, is considered a major talent, but is only slightly more than a year removed from reconstructive elbow surgery. Last year he was 7-6 with a 3.68 ERA in 19 starts with the Marlins. Burnett, recovering from elbow surgery, made his first start of 2004 in June.

"The guy has top of the rotation stuff," one scout said. "If this guy gets healthy and stays healthy, he's got a chance to lead a rotation."

Burnett would surely command less in salary than Hudson, a reason the Orioles may decide to abandon their bid for the Oakland ace. Hudson is likely to receive a deal worth $14 million to $16 million annually; Burnett would likely seek a deal similar to the four-year, $39 million deal Carl Pavano is set to sign with the Yankees.

Sexson's decision to sign with the Mariners is just one of several setbacks for the Orioles this offseason. Baltimore failed in a bid to acquire Pavano, lost its only free agent signing, infielder Chris Gomez, in the Rule 5 draft, and seemingly has fallen in the chase for Delgado.

Baltimore executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan did not return phone calls yesterday. Orioles employees gathered last night for the team's holiday party. So far there are no gifts under the tree.

Baseball Notes: Top officials from MLB and the players' association met in New York for a second straight day of negotiations on a tougher steroid-testing policy for the sport. No agreement was reached, but more talks were scheduled, according to an MLB spokesman. Both sides have agreed not to comment on the talks.

Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company