ANAHEIM, Calif., Dec. 13 -- At one point Monday the Baltimore Orioles' offseason was so grim that their only free agent signing, utility infielder Chris Gomez, was lost in the Rule 5 draft less than a week after they had acquired him. The winter meetings were a disappointment for Baltimore in that the Orioles, who had promised to improve a team that had made significant progress last season, did not make one free agent signing or finish one trade. But Orioles officials boarded a plane Monday afternoon optimistic, believing they still were involved in negotiations for free agent first baseman Richie Sexson and Oakland Athletics pitcher Tim Hudson.
Monday morning was spent meeting with Casey Close, Sexson's agent, who assured the Orioles that his client had not agreed to terms with the Seattle Mariners, as had been reported in several Internet reports and Seattle newspapers. The Orioles pressed Close for assurances the team was not being used to negotiate a better contract from the Mariners. The two sides agreed to speak again Tuesday.
"We feel comfortable we're still going to have a chance to negotiate," said Jim Beattie, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations. "We're continuing to talk. I asked [Close] about all the rumors. That led to the fact we're going to talk."
Close said Sexson was not scheduled to take a physical, a certain sign an agreement had been reached with a team. Close also said his client had narrowed his choices to the Orioles and Mariners.
"He's still an unsigned player," Close said. "We've had discussions with these two clubs. We'll continue to have dialogue with both teams [Tuesday]. We're far along with both clubs where we feel good about where it's going."
Seattle continues to be confident a deal has been struck despite what Close and the Orioles say. Close did not discount the possibility a third team could come in and overwhelm Sexson with a contract offer. The New York Yankees, perhaps the team most capable of providing Close with an overwhelming offer, had not involved themselves with Sexson, yet remained a threat.
"I wouldn't rule anything out," Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said.
Baltimore is still interested in Carlos Delgado, but only if the first baseman lowers his demands. One National League executive said Delgado is asking for a four-year deal in the range of $15 million to $17 million per year.
A deal for Hudson appeared unlikely when the Orioles checked out of the Anaheim Marriott at noon and headed to the airport to catch a flight back to Baltimore. To that point, Orioles officials had not talked to Oakland GM Billy Beane nor had a conversation been scheduled.
A flicker of hope surfaced only minutes after most Orioles officials had departed to the airport. Beane called the team's suite at the Marriott and asked to talk to Beattie or Mike Flanagan, the team's vice president of baseball operations. Beane eventually reached the Orioles at the airport, and according to one baseball official, told them they were one of three teams still in the running for Hudson. Los Angeles Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta confirmed his team was one of the three.
"We haven't been told we're out," DePodesta said.
The Atlanta Braves are rumored to be the third team. The Braves and A's met on Monday. The Boston Red Sox, who are expected to lose Pedro Martinez to the Mets, are hoping to make a strong push for Hudson, but may not have the prospects to sway Oakland unless they involve a third team.
The baseball official said Beane assured the Orioles, who are offering Erik Bedard and two prospects, he would not make a deal without speaking to them again. Team officials weren't expected to arrive in Baltimore until 10 p.m. on Monday, making it unlikely that Hudson would be dealt before Tuesday.
The loss of Gomez was embarrassing. The team signed the veteran infielder last week to a minor league deal in hopes that he would become a utility player. Gomez is able to play second, third and shortstop. But the Orioles didn't have any room on their Class AAA roster, so they put Gomez on Class AA Bowie's roster. Gomez was selected in the minor league portion of the draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Most teams hold off on announcing the signing of a player to a minor league deal until after the Rule 5 draft so they don't have to protect the player.
"We had our roster pretty much frozen to where we couldn't do anything about it," Beattie said. "It was probably a bit of an oversight."