BALTIMORE, Jan. 28 -- A quiet offseason for the Baltimore Orioles suddenly turned lively Friday night when the team agreed in principle to acquire superstar outfielder Sammy Sosa from the Chicago Cubs for Jerry Hairston, several minor leaguers and cash, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the talks.
The price for Sosa, one of the most accomplished power hitters in baseball history who is ranked seventh on the all-time home run list (574) and is the only player to hit 60 home runs three times in a career, was not substantial. Hairston is the only player with major league experience who would be sent to Chicago. The others are prospects, including second baseman Mike Fontenot and pitcher David Crouthers. The Cubs are also going to add a substantial amount of money to the deal to cover Sosa's contract.
The Orioles appear close to acquiring Sammy Sosa from the Cubs. Medical tests and approval from commissioner Bud Selig and the players' association remain unresolved.
Sosa, 36, is still several steps from becoming an Oriole. First, the Commissioner's Office must approve the deal because of the money involved. Commissioner Bud Selig must approve any trade in which $1 million or more changes hands, and a source familiar with the trade said the deal still had not been sent to Selig for approval.
Second, Sosa must waive his no-trade clause. Third, all players involved must pass physicals. Lastly, his representatives would likely have to ask the players' association for permission to renegotiate his contract as it doesn't appear feasible the Orioles would make the trade under the current structure. As of early Friday evening, the players' association still had not been contacted about any issue regarding Sosa's contract. It is conceivable the Cubs' cash payment to the Orioles was so great as to preclude the Orioles' need to restructure the deal.
Sosa is owed $17.5 million in 2005 with an $18 million option for 2006 that can be bought out for $4.5 million. If traded, the option for 2006 automatically triggers and enacts a $19 million option for 2007 that can also be bought out for $4.5 million.
Historically, the players' association has not allowed players to restructure their contracts unless they receive equal value. It's possible Sosa will sign an extension with the Orioles where he'd receive $22.5 million total for two seasons, equaling the salary he would earn this year with the Cubs plus the buyout for 2006. Regardless, Sosa would be an Oriole for at least two seasons.
Acquiring Sosa comes at a substantial risk. He was labeled as a malcontent after criticizing Cubs Manager Dusty Baker last year, and his popularity in Chicago has dwindled to the point where videotape footage of the superstar was booed during a recent fan caravan.
Sosa was fined $87,500 -- one day's salary -- after leaving the last game of the 2004 season in the first inning. Sosa claimed he did not leave until the seventh inning, but security camera footage showed Sosa leaving in the first. In 2003 Sosa was suspended seven games for using a corked bat. The slugger's numbers have also declined. Last year Sosa hit just .253 with 35 home runs, his lowest total since 1994.
Since 2001, when Sosa had the best year of his career -- bashing 64 homers and driving in 160 runs -- his production has declined in each successive season. His OPS (on-base average plus slugging percentage) fell from 1.174 in 2001, to .993 in 2002, .911 in 2003 and .849 last season.
Whispers throughout the industry often attributed Sosa's declining production to the introduction of steroid testing in the game in 2002, although his name has never been linked to the current steroid scandal surrounding the BALCO federal grand jury probe.
For several months the Orioles have dismissed reports the team was making a strong bid for Sosa. Baltimore discussed the possibility of adding Sosa during the winter meetings in mid-December, but concluded that unless the Cubs picked up a substantial portion of Sosa's contract no deal was possible.
The Orioles clearly became more aggressive once they failed in an attempt to sign Carlos Delgado and saw their fan base bristle at what has been an uneventful offseason.
Hairston, 28, has deep ties to the Chicago area and the local baseball community. He grew up in suburban Naperville and played college ball at Southern Illinois University. His father, Jerry Sr., played 13 seasons for the Chicago White Sox in the 1970s and 1980s, and his late grandfather, Sam, became the first African American player to play for the White Sox in July 1951.
Staff writer Dave Sheinin contributed to this report.