Deal would be richest in team history

Updated: March 16, 2004, 12:47 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

PHOENIX -- If Billy Beane can seal a deal with Eric Chavez, the Oakland Athletics just might keep one of their own stars for a change.

Chavez, a talented young third baseman who can become a free agent after the season, could agree to a contract extension with the team this week, Beane said Monday.

Oakland's general manager has been in productive negotiations with Chavez's agent, Dave Stewart.

"There's nothing final, but I'm very optimistic," Beane said. "All the conversations we've had have taken steps forward. I feel like we're moving in the right direction and we have a chance to get this thing done. We haven't really had too many sticking points."

That's a remarkable development for the A's, who have no problem developing young talent but never seem to hang onto it. Keeping Chavez, 26, in Oakland also might make it easier to convince star pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito to stay when their contracts expire in the next three seasons.

"I don't know the details, but I think it sends a message," Hudson said Monday after a strong spring training outing.

"Hopefully, they'll get it done, and we'll go from there. I think it sends a message that we want to keep people. It's good for our team and our organization, and it sends a great message to our fans by keeping free agents around here for a while."

Chavez, who refused to comment on the negotiations, hit .282 with 29 homers and 101 RBIs last season, his most consistent campaign in the majors. He tied Hank Blalock of Texas for the most homers by an AL third baseman, and won his second Gold Glove.

According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, Beane has to reassure Chavez that if and when outfielder Jermaine Dye becomes a free agent at the end of the year, Beane will find someone to protect his third baseman in the batting order.

The small-market, small-budget A's have defied baseball conventions by building a winning team the last five years, but payroll constraints have forced them to say goodbye to an incredible number of gifted free agents.

They've lost MVPs Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, who signed big-money deals elsewhere. Last spring, A's owner Steve Schott admitted the team couldn't afford Tejada, who wanted to stay in Oakland but signed a $72 million deal with Baltimore in December.

Oakland also couldn't keep outfielder Johnny Damon or closers Jason Isringhausen and Keith Foulke -- and other players, such as catcher Ramon Hernandez, departed in trades before their salaries became exorbitant.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Chavez is working on a $66 million, six-year deal, though Beane wouldn't confirm the numbers. Stewart -- a longtime star pitcher for the A's -- didn't return a call seeking comment, but such a deal would be the biggest contract in franchise history.

Beane is leaving Arizona for Chicago on unrelated business Tuesday, so a deal might not be completed until later in the week.

"There has never been any sense of urgency and there has never been a sense of formality," Beane said. "The way talks have gone leads me to believe we can get something done."

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