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Orioles Still in the Chase for Sexson

Martinez Confirms 4-Year Deal With Mets

By Dave Sheinin and Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page D01

The ongoing saga of the Baltimore Orioles' dalliance with free agent first baseman Richie Sexson -- in which the Orioles appeared to have been jilted once, then asked to make up -- took one more wild plot twist yesterday, with the revelation that Sexson has already secretly taken a physical examination for the Seattle Mariners.

That information, which made its way to the Orioles' offices yesterday, explains the reports of a deal being struck between Sexson and the Mariners that began to circulate two days earlier. However, Sexson's agent was still negotiating with the Orioles last night, leading the Orioles to believe that Sexson's tentative deal with the Mariners is on hold -- perhaps because the Mariners saw something they did not like. Sexson's 2004 season ended on June 4 with surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder, which he injured on a checked swing in April.

The Orioles believe they still have a shot at signing Richie Sexson, right, to a deal. (Morry Gash - AP)

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On Monday, the same day as Sexson's physical in Seattle, his agent, Casey Close, told reporters (and presumably the Orioles, as well) that no deal had been reached with the Mariners, and no physical had been scheduled. Neither Mariners General Manager Bill Bavasi nor Close returned telephone calls yesterday.

But the Orioles are now under the impression that Sexson's tentative deal with the Mariners -- which, according to an industry source, was roughly what Arizona gave Troy Glaus last week (four years, $45 million) -- is on hold, and the Orioles remain in position to sign the 6-foot-8 slugger who hit 45 homers in both 2001 and 2003.

"We're going to continue to talk," said Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Beattie, who declined to comment further on the team's negotiations with any of its free agent targets.

The Orioles' renewed pursuit of Sexson -- who would be the team's best pure power hitter since Albert Belle retired following the 2000 season -- comes amid confirmation that the best pitcher in the Orioles' division for most of the last seven years is moving on.

Right-hander Pedro Martinez confirmed during a television interview in his native Dominican Republic that he has left the Boston Red Sox to sign a four-year deal -- believed to be for between $50 million and $56 million -- with the New York Mets. The deal is pending a physical examination.

"We got what we wanted," Martinez said in the interview, according to the Associated Press. "The team and I are happy with everything. . . . My heart will always be with the Boston fans. I hope that everyone who truly loves me will still support me now that I won't be with the Red Sox."

As part of the trickle-down effect from Martinez's deal, free agent pitcher Odalis Perez -- who remains the top target of the Washington Nationals -- lost one suitor (the Mets), but gained another (the Red Sox).

The Red Sox called Perez's representatives shortly after learning about Martinez's new contract to inquire about the left-hander, according to a baseball source with knowledge of the talks. Ironically, Perez, who went 7-6 with Los Angeles last season, is represented by SFX Baseball, and his negotiating team includes Fernando Cuza, Martinez's agent.

Though Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said the team's quest for Perez "is on life support," he maintains some hope. "I dream, and I pray," Bowden said.

Almost all of the elite hitters who hit the free agent market last month remain there, despite frenzied negotiations at this past weekend's winter meetings.

The Orioles have targeted Sexson and Carlos Delgado to fill their hole at first base next season. Many in the organization preferred Sexson over Delgado, because Sexson is three years younger (29 vs. 32), bats right-handed and is considered a better defensive first baseman.

When Sexson appeared lost to Seattle, the Orioles turned to Delgado, but club officials were stunned at Delgado's asking price, which according to two baseball executives, was a four-year deal worth about $16 million per year. Delgado, who made nearly $20 million last season, is not interested in taking a substantial pay cut.

Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company