Olerud signs with Seattle

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The Independent Online

John Olerud left the New York Mets for Seattle on the first key free-agent deadline of the offseason on Tuesday night, and teams cut off negotiations with 73 of their former players.

John Olerud left the New York Mets for Seattle on the first key free-agent deadline of the offseason on Tuesday night, and teams cut off negotiations with 73 of their former players.

The World Series champion New York Yankees said goodbye to catcher Joe Girardi and infielder Luis Sojo, Anaheim let go of left-hander Chuck Finley and Cincinnati said so long to outfielder Greg Vaughn and pitchers Steve Avery and Mark Wohlers.

Meanwhile, 22 players were offered arbitration, a group that included outfielder Wil Cordero and left-hander Chris Haney of Cleveland and three players who left the NL champion Atlanta Braves to become free agents: shortstop Jose Hernandez, right-hander Rudy Seanez and outfielder Gerald Williams.

Players offered arbitration may accept the offers through December 19 and negotiate with their former teams through January 8.

Players not offered arbitration cannot re-sign with their former teams until May 1. Also, teams can sign these players without losing amateur draft picks as compensation.

Among those were right-handers Andy Benes, John Burkett, Orel Hershiser and Bobby Witt; catcher Benito Santiago; infielders Jeff Blauser, Tony Fernandez, Mickey Morandini and Ed Sprague; outfielder Paul Sorrento; and designated hitter Harold Baines.

Right-hander Jeff Brantley, facing the midnight deadline, re-signed with Philadelphia, agreeing to a $250,000, one-year contract that gives him the chance to earn an additional $2.5 million in roster and performance bonuses.

Shortstop Rey Sanchez agreed to a $4.6 million, two-year contract with Kansas City, and Texas signed two players just before the deadline, left-hander Mike Munoz for $850,000 and second baseman Luis Alicea for $750,000.

Atlanta agreed to a minor league deal with outfielder Brian Hunter, who would get a $350,000, one-year contract if he makes the team. Cleveland agreed to a minor league deal with left-hander Mark Langston, who would get a $300,000, one-year contract if he's added to the major league roster.

Others offered arbitration were first baseman Jeff Conine and left-hander Arthur Rhodes of Baltimore; right-hander Omar Olivares of Oakland; left-hander Norm Charlton of Tampa Bay; right-hander Aaron Sele and third baseman Todd Zeile of Texas; left-hander Graeme Lloyd and first baseman David Segui of Toronto; right-hander Steve Trachsel of the Chicago Cubs; right-hander Juan Guzman of Cincinnati; outfielder Shawon Dunston and left-hander Kenny Rogers of the Mets; third baseman Dale Sveum of Pittsburgh; and outfielder Thomas Howard and left-hander Darren Oliver of St Louis.

In addition, the Mets offered arbitration to Olerud in case there is a problem with his Seattle deal.

Olerud, one of the top players in a weak free-agent class, opted to return to his hometown, agreeing to a $20 million, three-year contract with the Mariners.

"This was a real difficult decision for me," Olerud said. "There were times where I was leaning toward the Mets, definitely. I came close, but never to the point where I said 'Let's go for it."'

The first baseman, coming off an $8 million, two-year deal, said the Mets made a "very comparable" offer. The contract with Seattle calls for salaries of $6.35 million in 2000, $6.7 million in 2001 and $6.95 million in 2002.

"I think if it was any other team other than the Mets, it would have been a real easy decision," Olerud said.

With the Mariners, Olerud will be able to commute to Safeco Field for home games. He has a wife and 15-month-old son living in Seattle and will be able to play in front of his parents. He also has grandparents on both sides of the family in Seattle

"We couldn't match that," Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "It really boiled down to what city he wanted to play in."