Sosa deal OK#039;d

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 3, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) - Sammy Sosa could be tapping his heart and blowing kisses to Baltimore Orioles fans in a matter of hours.

Sosa was scheduled to take a physical Wednesday, and the Orioles were already making tentative plans for a news conference to introduce him if baseball commissioner Bud Selig gives his approval. Selig's office was still waiting on some final paperwork, but it expected to receive it Wednesday.

Chicago would get Jerry Hairston Jr. and two minor leaguers for Sosa, whose up-and-down ride with the Cubs is nearing a conclusion. The Cubs would pay $12 million of Sosa's $17 million salary this year.

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The swap cannot be completed without Selig's blessing because more than $1 million will change hands, but no problems are anticipated. Selig has been informed of the negotiations, and his office just needs that last paperwork before it forwards him the trade. Missing is Sosa's waiver of his no-trade rights as a 10-year veteran with at least five years on the same team, and formal agreement to the restructuring of his contract by the league and union.

Sosa's contract with Chicago contains a provision that calls for the team's $18 million option for 2006 to become guaranteed if he is traded, and for a $19 million team option for 2007 to be added - one that would carry a $4.5 million buyout. As part of the trade, Sosa will sign an addendum to his contract voiding that provision.

In addition, Chicago is responsible for a $3.5 million severance payment that must be made within 30 days of the deal. Baltimore becomes responsible for the 2006 option, which carries a $4.5 million buyout.

The deal also is contingent upon Sosa passing the physical, to be administered by Orioles team physician Charles Silberstein.

Finalization of the trade can't happen soon enough for the Cubs, who are ready to sign free-agent outfielder Jeromy Burnitz to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2006. That deal wouldn't be finalized until the Sosa trade is completed.

The Cubs initiated the swap with the Orioles in an effort to unload the 36-year-old Sosa, once a hero in Chicago. But his popularity and numbers dwindled over the past two years, and the Cubs found him to be expendable after a season in which he hit .253 and struck out 133 times.

Yet his 35 homers were more than any Orioles player hit in 2004, and his new teammates expect his bat to experience a revival this season.

''I'm looking for him to have a monster year,'' said Jay Gibbons, whom Sosa will replace in right field. ''We needed a right-handed power hitter, and here's a guy who hit 35 despite missing time with a bad back. I'd say that makes the middle of the lineup pretty dangerous.''

Sosa will certainly add punch to the lineup, but will he be a positive addition to the clubhouse? He was suspended for corking his bat in 2003, and last season left early during the Cubs' final game and was critical of manager Dusty Baker for dropping him to sixth in the batting order.

''Yeah, some things happened last year, but I'm sure there was a lot of stuff behind the scenes that we don't know about,'' Orioles outfielder Larry Bigbie said. ''I think he will fit right in. Take away the last two years and give him a fresh start, and I bet everything will be fine.''

Bigbie has spent much of the offseason in Indiana, about 20 minutes outside Chicago. He knows what Cubs fans think of Sosa, and expects that opinion might change by July.

''They're happy to have him out of Chicago, and I'm happy to have him in Baltimore. I think he'll be a great addition to the team and to the city,'' Bigbie said. ''I might end up calling all those Cubs fans around the All-Star break and see how many want him back. Maybe all he needs is a clean slate.''

Sosa has a history of answering challenges with big numbers, and Camden Yards might be the perfect spot for his new start. One of the cozier ballparks in the majors, it's tailor-made for home-run hitters.

''Sammy can hit home runs to left and right field one-handed in Camden Yards,'' said Steve Stone, the Cubs' television analyst for most of Sosa's career in Chicago. ''Sammy's got a lot of home runs left to hit.''