O's, Conine Agree; Club In Dispute

Jeff Conine
The Orioles finalize a one-year, $1.7 million deal with Jeff Conine. (Chad Rachman - AP)
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 5, 2006

The Baltimore Orioles reached an ironclad agreement with one veteran outfielder yesterday, even as new accusations were being lobbed between the team and an angry agent over an apparent deal with another veteran outfielder that fell apart.

The Orioles finalized a one-year, $1.7 million deal with Jeff Conine, the popular corner outfielder-first baseman who will be rejoining the team he played for from 1999 to 2003. Conine, 38, spent the last 2 1/2 seasons with the Florida Marlins, helping them win the World Series in 2003, and batting .304 in 131 games last season.

Baltimore is "just a great place to play," Conine said during a conference call with reporters, "and I'm happy to be going back."

However, the news of Conine's signing was overshadowed by the acrimonious exchange, via the media, between Orioles Vice President of Baseball Operations Jim Duquette and agent Howard Simon, who represents outfielder Jeromy Burnitz. Burnitz yesterday finalized a one-year, $6.7 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates a week after the Orioles believed they had reached agreement with him on a two-year deal.

Duquette yesterday accused Simon of reneging on the deal, telling the Associated Press, "My feeling is, we had an agreement. . . . It sets a bad precedent when that is allowed to happen."

However, Simon insisted no agreement had been reached and blamed the disintegration of the deal on what he described as "onerous, open-ended" language regarding Burnitz's physical examination in the team's final contract proposal.

"We did not renege," Simon said. "We did not have a deal. We agreed to most of the terms and conditions, but not all of them. The language [regarding the physical] was unacceptable."

Simon described the Orioles as a "franchise in disarray," and blamed the contract fiasco on owner Peter Angelos, a Baltimore lawyer whom Simon believes was responsible for the severity of the contract language.

"This is a hands-on owner," Simon said. "I can't even take the word of the guy I'm dealing with [Duquette], because he doesn't have the authority."

Angelos did not return a telephone message yesterday seeking comment.

According to Simon, the standard contract language regarding a physical examination specifies only that the contract is contingent upon the player passing one. By contrast, Simon said, the Orioles' proposal contained four components regarding Burnitz's medical evaluation. In addition to separate physical examinations by the Orioles and an insurance agent, the proposal called for a "complete and full review by the club of the player's complete medical records, including but not limited to X-rays and training room notes." At that point, the Orioles, according to the proposal, were still permitted to make a "final determination. . . as to whether [Burnitz's] physical condition is acceptable."

"What am I supposed to do?" Simon said. "Go to the Cubs, the Indians, the Dodgers and the Rockies [Burnitz's former teams]? And call Doctors A, B, C and D and get their records?"

Simon also said the team's well-documented trade discussions with the Boston Red Sox regarding slugging left fielder Manny Ramirez further soured Burnitz on the Orioles. "I didn't want a situation where the music stops," Simon said, "and my guy doesn't have a chair."

Duquette did not return a telephone message seeking comment. However, in an interview with the Associated Press, he said Burnitz informed a team official during a telephone conversation over the weekend that he had undergone "a change of heart" and decided he wanted to play in the National League.

Simon acknowledged "there could be other reasons" for Burnitz's turning down the Orioles' proposal. "All I'm saying," Simon said, "is that this thing would have been done if it weren't for that onerous language."

The Orioles' offer "is a better deal than the one we accepted" in terms of years and guaranteed dollars, Simon said. " . . . I'm not looking for a dart-throwing contest. But I'm not going to sit back and let people say we're not honorable people, and that we're reneging."

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