Like a hitter breaking out of a cold spell, the Mariners are hoping to conclude what had been a frustrating winter meetings with a home run — or maybe even a pair of them...

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Like a hitter breaking out of a cold spell, the Mariners have concluded what had been a frustrating winter meetings with a home run — and are still hoping for another one.

According to multiple sources, they have reached an agreement in principle with free agent Richie Sexson, the power-hitting first baseman/outfielder from Brush Prairie, Wash., and are also making an aggressive play to sign slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado or third baseman Adrian Beltre, the National League home-run champion.

In a startling break from their traditional reluctance to sign big-name free agents, the Mariners are believed to have offered somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million to the three players. They are hoping to land two, and hope they will be the cornerstone of Seattle’s recovery from a 99-loss season.

Sexson’s deal — which sources say would be for more than the market-setting four-year, $45 million contract that third baseman Troy Glaus signed with Arizona — is contingent on his passing a physical examination. Therefore, it is not likely to be announced before the meetings conclude today.

The 6-foot-8, 237-pound Sexson underwent arthroscopic surgery on June 4 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder he suffered on a checked swing. That injury occurred just one day after he completed a three-week rehabilitation for a separated shoulder and slight labrum tear on another checked swing.

Sexson’s agent, Casey Close, said Saturday that Sexson was “100 percent” and was “ready to complete any physical he’d need to on behalf of the clubs.”

The Mariners will have beaten out the Baltimore Orioles and New York Mets, both of whom went hard after the right-handed hitter. The signing would likely have a positive impact on Seattle’s efforts to land Delgado, who may be concerned about the Mariners’ ability to compete after a poor 2004.

Carlos Delgado is seeking a $60 million-plus deal.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the Orioles have a meeting scheduled with Close after today’s Rule 5 Draft, and that they believe they still have a shot at Sexson. But by all accounts the deal is done with the Mariners, pending the physical.

The Mariners are said to be willing to exceed Sexson’s contract to sign Delgado, who is reportedly seeking $60 million-plus over four years. Industry sources say the Mariners recognize they may have to pay a penalty of sorts to overcome concerns over their record, and to show players and agents they are willing to step up to the plate financially.

Mariners GM Bill Bavasi, asked yesterday if the last-place finish is complicating his ability to attract players, replied, “A bit, yes. It does affect it a little bit, and we do have to do some explaining.”

Also complicating matters is the skyrocketing market for free agents, which unquestionably has forced the team to re-evaluate its salary structure. The Mariners were expected to have about $16 million to spend on 2005 salaries for free agents, but market realities have blown that out of the water.

“I’m not sure we’ve been at a meeting yet with a free agent where we haven’t heard Glaus’ name,” Bavasi said. “When they bring food to the room and see our tip, they say, ‘Is that all we get? Geez, Glaus got a raise.’ That name is mentioned all the time.”

One of the Mariners’ options disappeared when third baseman Corey Koskie reportedly wrapped up a three-year, $17 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, pending a physical today.

But the Mariners were aiming for a bigger splash than Koskie, and have made a five-year offer to Beltre. However, Beltre’s agent, Scott Boras, doesn’t seem willing to move off seven years.

If the Sexson-Delgado tandem works out — and other teams, including Baltimore and perhaps the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, are still going aggressively after Delgado — Sexson would likely play left field, allowing Raul Ibanez to move to designated hitter or perhaps be traded. Expect the Mariners to also step up their efforts to trade outfielder Randy Winn for payroll clearance.

Sexson, considered an outstanding defensive first baseman, would play first if Delgado fell through or if the Mariners signed Beltre instead of Delgado.

New Mariners manager Mike Hargrove, asked yesterday about Sexson’s ability to play left field, had a favorable response. Sexson played 106 games in left for Cleveland in 1999 and 2000 when Hargrove was his manager.

“First of all, he’s a very good athlete,” Hargrove said. “Richie could play left field. Richie could play just about anywhere he wants to because he’s such a good athlete.”

If healthy, Sexson could give the Mariners much-need power, having hit 45 homers in both 2001 and 2003 for Milwaukee. Last year with Arizona, after the Diamondbacks sent six players to the Brewers for him, Sexson played in just 23 games but had nine homers (including one 503-foot blast off the Bank One Ballpark Jumbotron that was the longest in franchise history) and 23 runs batted in.

The left-handed Delgado, 32, has 336 career home runs, exceeding 40 in three seasons. He has gone over 100 RBI six times, including 145 in 2003, and had 99 last year despite being limited by injury to 128 games.

Adrian Beltre wants a seven-year contract.
In a conference call with reporters, Bavasi said he was “cautiously optimistic” about signing Delgado and that the club was “in the middle of ongoing discussions” with Sexson, “which is all a good sign.”

Bavasi said that there was also some progress on the trade front, amidst speculation that the Mets are trying to interest them in shortstop Kaz Matsui, perhaps for Winn. But a Mariners official said the deal that intrigued them didn’t involve Matsui.

“At least we’ve got something interesting on the table,” Bavasi said.

Lineup musings

Hargrove said that he has played with some lineup combinations, but nothing definitive. For one thing, the players at his disposal are apt to change dramatically before spring training. For another, he’s waiting until he sees players whose talents he knows only through word of mouth.

“For instance, I haven’t seen a Jeremy Reed,” he said. “Because of that, it’s a little hard to place him in the lineup.”

One player he’ll have no problems placing is Ichiro, at the top of the order — and in right field.

“Ichiro, watching him from other side, always intrigued me,” Hargrove said. “He has the tools to be a center fielder.”

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or Times reporter Bob Finnigan contributed to this report.