The Baltimore Orioles were close to signing free agent right-handed pitcher Aaron Sele tonight, according to baseball sources. But Sele still was mulling over the Orioles' offer, believed to be for four years and about $30 million, and the sides were still negotiating some minor points.

Sele's agent, Adam Katz, today informed the Tampa Bay Devil Rays--the other team Sele was considering--that Sele was leaning strongly toward accepting the Orioles' offer, the sources said. Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar then told Katz that the Devil Rays were dropping out of the running.

The Devil Rays' offer also was believed to be in the neighborhood of four years, $30 million. Katz told the St. Petersburg Times in today's editions that the differences between the two offers were "not enormous," and that Sele was going to take into account the cities, the teams' personnel and the front offices before making his decision.

Orioles vice president for baseball operations Syd Thrift denied that a deal had been struck, saying only, "We're still working on a few things."

The signing of Sele--to go along with Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson--would give the Orioles arguably as good a starting rotation as any in the American League, rivaling the New York Yankees'.

Sele, 29, went 18-9 with a 4.79 earned-run average last season for the Texas Rangers and finished third in the league with 186 strikeouts. He is one of only four pitchers in the majors to win 18 or more games in both 1998 and 1999--the others being Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and Kevin Brown.

Sele rejected a four-year, $28 million offer from the Rangers at the end of the 1999 season, opting to test the free agent market.

The Orioles began pursuing Sele after being spurned last month by free agent left-hander Chuck Finley, who chose the Cleveland Indians. Although the Orioles also made an offer to right-hander Andy Benes and had discussions about several other starting pitchers, they considered Sele the second-most attractive free agent pitcher available, after Finley.