O's working weekend nets a good catch

Having agreed to deal, J. Lopez to arrive today in Baltimore for physical

Flanagan: `Javy was the guy'

Pursuit of I. Rodriguez not `totally' eliminated

December 23, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Javy Lopez intended to fly from San Diego to his Georgia home yesterday until the Orioles changed his travel plans.

This was one instance where Lopez didn't mind being rerouted.

Expected to arrive in Baltimore last night, Lopez is scheduled to take his team and insurance physicals early today. Once he passes them, he'll officially become part of the organization and another jackpot for club executives Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan.

"I guess I can say we're pretty confident that things are going in the right direction," Flanagan said.

Lopez, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, agreed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal late Sunday night, concluding negotiations between his agent, Chuck Berry, and the Orioles. They hope to introduce him to the local media before Christmas, but couldn't arrange a conference call yesterday because of Lopez's cross-country flight.

"It was an interesting evening and weekend for all of us involved," Flanagan said.

The Orioles made an initial three-year, $18 million offer to Lopez, who batted .328 with 43 homers and 109 RBIs for the Atlanta Braves in 2003. They dangled a three-year, $24 million offer before catcher Ivan Rodriguez and waited for someone to bite.

Lopez's appetite was satisfied once the Orioles gave him $22.5 million.

"Talks were ongoing with Pudge throughout this process," Flanagan said, "but I'd have to say that Javy, for a variety of reasons, was the targeted guy."

Rodriguez told a Miami television reporter on Thursday that the Orioles guaranteed a fourth year, which angered some members of the front office. But Flanagan said it had no bearing on the decision to sign Lopez.

"I can say that had nothing to do with the outcome," Flanagan said. "Javy was the guy. We stayed after him and we got it done."

Flanagan didn't rule out the possibility of signing Rodriguez, an option that gains momentum if the Orioles lose out on free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

"With the flexibility we have, I don't think you can totally eliminate it from the process," he said, "but I think that would change some of the dynamics of where we're going next."

Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, spoke with Beattie yesterday and said the Orioles remain in the picture. He indicated the two sides have resolved the length of the contract and are negotiating the financial terms.

"We've felt that the fit between the two is something that worked, and we still feel that way," Boras said. "We understand that catchers only catch 120 games a season usually, and from our point of view, Ivan Rodriguez is a guy who was interested in the Baltimore Orioles and still is.

"They've got a couple things to consider. How immediate they're going to consider those things, I don't know. They didn't give me an indication."

Meanwhile, manager Lee Mazzilli spoke to Lopez yesterday and relayed parts of their conversation to Flanagan.

"He is thrilled to be aboard," Flanagan said. "What Javy brings to the table is substantial postseason experience. He has an MVP trophy for the postseason, and he had one of the more amazing seasons for any catcher in baseball history this year."

Lopez, a career .287 hitter, set a major league record for single-season home runs by a catcher, and they came in only 129 games. Slowed by health issues in the past - he has gone on the disabled list four times in the past six years - Lopez stayed in the Braves' lineup and cashed in with the Orioles.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada signed for $72 million over six years, and Lopez provides another important piece to the Orioles' winter puzzle. He was the Braves' regular catcher for 10 seasons, but moving to the American League allows him to also serve as the designated hitter and reduce the strain on his right knee, which has forced him on the disabled list twice.

Lopez, 33, never has accumulated more than 489 at-bats in a season since breaking into the majors in 1992. "The 550 range is a lot more attainable with the designated hitter," Flanagan said.

"We're going to give him the opportunity to have the type of season he had last year without having to cram the season into a certain amount of games."

The Orioles made sure Lopez was willing to move out from behind the plate before agreeing to terms.

"He expressed that he would do anything it took," Flanagan said. "He said, `I can play some first base, too.'"

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