Baltimore's much-discussed deal for Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett has hit a snag with Orioles owner Peter Angelos's reluctance to take on the $21.25 million owed to infielder Mike Lowell, a centerpiece of the proposed eight-player deal.
The deal as had been agreed upon would have sent Lowell, Burnett and minor league outfielder Eric Reed to Baltimore in exchange for outfielder Larry Bigbie and pitchers Jorge Julio, Steve Reed, Steve Kline and Hayden Penn. Now it's unsure whether the deal will get done at all. According to one Orioles source, Baltimore Executive Vice President Jim Beattie and Vice President Mike Flanagan had hoped to persuade Angelos in an afternoon conference call to accept the deal, but the owner has not. The deal appears to be on hold while Angelos decides what to do.
One baseball source said the Orioles have asked the Marlins to pay as much as half of the money owed to Lowell. The Marlins, according to the source, have scoffed at such a demand and have threatened to put Burnett back on the market and available to all bidders. Beattie avoided the topic.
"I have absolutely nothing to say," Beattie said.
Baltimore still appears to be the most likely destination for Burnett, though, as the Marlins have not restarted talks with the Boston Red Sox, one of the other teams that had been in serious discussions with the Marlins.
"We're in the same spot as before," said a Red Sox official. "Interested, but not far along."
Several reports had the Orioles in discussions with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but several team sources and one baseball source denied that and insisted the deal would remain simply between Baltimore and Florida. Other reports say that the Marlins would then, in a separate deal, send Bigbie to the Pirates in exchange for pitcher Mark Redman, but no Pirates player would join Baltimore.
The Orioles players involved continued to stir uneasily with their futures on hold. While they had conceded on Monday they would be moved, they wondered on Tuesday if they would be traded at all. One of the players said the uncertainty had made it difficult to be part of the team. Either way, he hoped the situation could be resolved quickly.
Burnett had told reporters in Arizona on Monday he did not think he would make his start on Tuesday.
The deal still appeared a possibility as Tuesday's Orioles game started even though Burnett was scheduled to pitch later in the night.
When Burnett took the mound at roughly 9:55 p.m. Eastern time in Arizona to face the Diamondbacks it finally became apparent the deal at least would not be made on Tuesday. It does not appear likely the Orioles would make the deal if they had to wait four more days for Burnett to be able to pitch again. They most likely will use the next few days to reevaluate the situation.
Part of the reason the Orioles quickly became the favorites to land Burnett was that they were the only team willing to take on Lowell's large contract, which runs through the 2007 season. That is the reason why the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox fell from consideration. But perhaps those two teams, along with the Red Sox, might be back in the hunt for Burnett, a 28-year-old with a career 43-44 record and a 3.80 ERA. Burnett's allure is that he has the ability to be a front-of-the-line starter, though he has never won more than 12 games in a season. The Orioles appear willing to make the deal without signing Burnett, a free agent after this year, to an extension. One baseball source said Burnett will ask for a contract in the neighborhood of four years, $50 million to $55 million.
Lowell, an all-star in 2004, has slumped badly since the second half of last year. Since the break last season, he is batting just .253 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI. This year Lowell has a .232 average with four home runs and 37 RBI. If acquired, Lowell, who has never played anywhere in his major league career but third base, will likely play first base.