Diamond In The Rough

Analysis: As the winter meetings begin, the Orioles' lineup is in flux as they shop for a few gems to add to their incumbents.

December 12, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - On Thanksgiving weekend, the Web site OriolesHangout.com had a posting on its message board titled, "It's Nov. 30. Do you know where our GMs are?"

The fan base was already restless.

The Philadelphia Phillies had traded for closer Billy Wagner. The Boston Red Sox were putting the finishing touches on the Curt Schilling trade. Free-agent outfielder Gary Sheffield was dining on George Steinbrenner's tab.

And the Orioles? Nothing.

Nearly two weeks later, the story hasn't changed, though it hasn't been for a lack of effort from Orioles vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie.

They had hoped to woo free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada with recruiting trips to Camden Yards. The Orioles even offered to visit those players near their homes in the Dominican Republic.

But Orioles officials say that the agents for Guerrero and Tejada - Fernando Cuza and Diego Benz - have slowed the pace of the negotiations so they could heat up at the winter meetings, which start in New Orleans today.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Benz declined to comment.

Beattie said he doesn't expect to finish a free-agent signing at the meetings, but Tejada, for one, sounds like he's eager to get a deal done.

"My agent has been exchanging concrete offers with the teams that have showed interest," Tejada told the Associated Press yesterday. "This weekend could be decisive for my future. I hope to have a firm contract or at least be close to signing during the weekend."

Landing the likes of Guerrero or Tejada could take a six- or seven-year contract, and Beattie said the Orioles are not opposed to doing those types of deals. He said they have already checked with insurance companies about covering contracts of that length.

"We're not cutting anything out; it's all in play," Beattie said. "Am I in favor of six-year contracts? I'd rather not, but every player, every situation would be different."

Beattie and Flanagan are facing an enormous challenge. They've been staring at the same puzzle for weeks. Here's a position-by-position breakdown, heading into the meetings:


Incumbent: Geronimo Gil. He's destined for a backup role.

Top free-agent target: Javy Lopez. His agent, Chuck Berry, was coy this past week about whether the Orioles had already made an offer. Berry said Lopez is open to playing first base or serving as the designated hitter but added, "He certainly still views himself as a catcher."

Secondary free-agent target: Ivan Rodriguez. The Orioles came close to signing him last offseason, but he has since dropped agent Jeff Moorad and hired Scott Boras, so the Orioles don't like their chances.

Possible trade target: Paul LoDuca. The Los Angeles Dodgers included him in their offers to the Florida Marlins for Derrek Lee and Milwaukee Brewers for Richie Sexson. LoDuca, a clubhouse leader with the Dodgers, is solid offensively and defensively.

First base

Incumbent: David Segui. Industry sources say the Orioles are trying to coax Segui to sit out next season while recovering from another wrist surgery, so they can collect insurance on the $7 million he will make in the final year of his contract.

Top free-agent target: Rafael Palmeiro. The Texas Rangers let him go after offering a one-year, $2 million deal - a stunning low-ball considering the former Oriole has hit at least 38 home runs for nine straight seasons. He reportedly has narrowed his list to the Orioles, Anaheim Angels, Dodgers and New York Yankees.

Potential trade target: Paul Konerko. The Chicago White Sox are trying to trim payroll, and they're shopping him, but he's under contract for $8 million next season.

Second base

Incumbents: Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts.

The Orioles say they could keep both players by moving Roberts to shortstop. But if they can sign Miguel Tejada, or possibly even Rich Aurilia, to play shortstop, Hairston or Roberts could get traded.

Third base

Incumbent: Melvin Mora. He hasn't played there on a regular basis since he was at Single-A in 1994, but the Orioles think he's the best solution.

"I don't see one that's better for us," Beattie said.

"I think Melvin can grow in that position. ... He's played it before. He's very athletic, he's played short, he's got the arm. I think we might be very pleasantly surprised about what Melvin could do over there at third."


Incumbent: Brian Roberts.

Top free-agent target: Miguel Tejada. A top Orioles official said the club will definitely top Seattle's reported offer of three years for $25 million.

Even in a depressed market, it will take a lot more than that to get the 2002 Most Valuable Player to come to Baltimore.

Secondary free-agent target: Rich Aurilia. His agent, Barry Axelrod, said some teams have talked about moving Aurilia to second or third base. The Orioles expressed interest and didn't mention a position change.

Potential trade target: Nomar Garciaparra. It's doubtful because the Orioles would have to overpay to trade for him within the division.

Left field

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