O's sign pair, eye major addition

Reboulet, John Valentin get minor-league deals

Impact player remains elusive

Team seeks big trade, but possibilities limited

January 30, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles made some more minor moves yesterday, hoping their fan base understands some major possibilities are developing behind the scenes.

Already impressed with B.J. Surhoff in his recent workouts, the club took another trip down memory lane, signing utility infielder Jeff Reboulet to a minor-league contract.

They also signed former Boston Red Sox infielder John Valentin to a minor-league deal. Reboulet and Valentin received invitations to spring training, where they will compete for one of the final spots on the club's Opening Day roster.

For anyone eager to see the Orioles add some zest to their lineup, the key word in those deals might be minor. But inside the warehouse, executive vice president Jim Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan continue to explore trades.

"Right now," Beattie said, "we're looking for people other clubs are looking to move."

The Orioles are tight-lipped about players they might be targeting in trades, but other major-league officials have offered a glimpse at the possibilities.

More than likely, those major-league sources say, Beattie and Flanagan will have a hard time making a traditional blockbuster trade because the Orioles' farm system remains so barren, especially at the highest levels.

To land Kansas City Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, for example, the Orioles probably would need to give up at least two young everyday major-league players and a center-field prospect for the Royals' farm system.

Beltran, the 1999 American League Rookie of the Year, recently became the hottest name on the trade market when he turned down a three-year, $25.2 million contract offer from the Royals. He is two years from free agency, and Kansas City has made it known it will move him for the right package.

But no matter how much the Orioles like Beltran, they probably can't get him until he becomes a free agent.

A more realistic scenario has the Orioles using the money they have yet to spend this offseason to take a high-priced player off another team's hands. In doing so, the Orioles would expect that other team to throw in one or more young players, allowing them to fill multiple holes with the same deal.

One possibility the Orioles discussed earlier this offseason involved Texas Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez. A two-time American League Most Valuable Player, Gonzalez is entering the final year of his contract, which pays him $12 million this year.

Gonzalez, 33, played in only 70 games last season because of a right thumb injury, but the last time he was in the final year of his contract, he hit .325 with 35 home runs and 140 RBIs for the Cleveland Indians in 2001.

By taking on Gonzalez's salary, the Orioles might get the Rangers to throw in a player such as third baseman Hank Blalock. Last spring, the Orioles had several discussions with the Rangers involving Blalock and Orioles starting pitchers Sidney Ponson and Jason Johnson.

The Orioles would rather have Rangers third base prospect Mark Teixeira, the former Mount St. Joseph High standout from Severna Park, but the switch-hitter with power became virtually untouchable after his performance in the Arizona Fall League. Baseball America recently called him the best hitting prospect in the minor leagues.

Any move with Texas probably will have to wait until into the exhibition season because the Rangers want to let new manager Buck Showalter take a look at players such as Blalock before any major decisions are made.

So the Orioles' search continues.

Surhoff, 38, who is more than nine months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, has had two solid workouts this week at Camden Yards.

"[Orioles trainer] Richie Bancells looked at him, and he checked out very well," Beattie said. "We'll see how [Surhoff] responds Friday."

Negotiations could follow. Surhoff, who played with the Orioles from 1996 to 2000, still lives in Cockeysville and is looking to return as a free agent. At the very least, he would challenge Chris Richard for playing time as a left-handed hitter off the Orioles' bench.

"He loved his years playing for the Orioles, and he would certainly love a chance to return in 2003," said Surhoff's agent Gregg Clifton. "He's feeling great. He's got a lot of baseball in him."

NOTE: The Orioles avoided arbitration with left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan, signing him to a one-year, $762,500 contract. The two sides met in the middle, after Ryan filed for $825,000 and the Orioles countered at $700,000.

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