FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Some football camps have quarterback controversies. The Orioles have a second base controversy. And manager Lee Mazzilli didn't quell it yesterday.
Asked if he was ready to name his starting second baseman - Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts - Mazzilli said, "No. That's why we have spring [training].
"They both know that we have a competition there. ... Every year, they're always in competition. I don't know how to answer that. It would be unfair for the guys to tell you what I think right away."
So Roberts and Hairston will enter the exhibition season Thursday against the Florida Marlins fighting for the starting job, while the front office explores potential trade scenarios.
The New York Yankees, who traded second baseman Alfonso Soriano to the Texas Rangers for Alex Rodriguez last month, and Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost Alex Cora to a broken forearm, are potential suitors.
But Orioles officials say the talks have been slow, with teams trying to let their scouts study exhibition games to see how certain players look before making any offers.
Hairston, 27, had the Orioles' starting second base job for 2 1/2 seasons before going down with a broken right foot last May. Roberts, 26, stepped in and proved capable of holding down the everyday role.
Roberts has missed the past three practices because of back spasms and will probably be out a few more days, Mazzilli said.
"You don't want to push it the first week of the season," Mazzilli said. "I'm not going to let him come back until he's 100 percent."
Trimmer in Tampa
Damian Moss delivered on his promise to drop weight this offseason after struggling mightily with the Orioles when he came over in the trade that sent Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants.
Moss reported to camp with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at 225 pounds, about 35 fewer than he weighed at season's end with the Orioles. After going 9-7 with a 4.70 ERA with the Giants, Moss went 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA with the Orioles, who chose not to tender him a contract rather than take him through arbitration.
After making $1.55 million last season, Moss signed with the Devil Rays as a free agent for $850,000.
"We like the guy that pitched in San Francisco, as opposed to the guy who pitched in Baltimore," Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella told reporters. "We like the first guy better."
Lee deal stings
The Chicago Cubs did something the Orioles couldn't Saturday, when they signed first baseman Derrek Lee to a three-year, $22.5 million contract extension.
The Orioles had first dibs in November, when they agreed to a trade for Lee with the Marlins with a 72-hour window to negotiate a contract extension. Lee came to the B&O warehouse, where he told Orioles officials his preference was to play closer to his home in Sacramento, Calif.
The Marlins wound up trading Lee to the Cubs for first baseman Hee Seop Choi. According to a major league source, the Orioles offered Lee more years (four) and a higher average annual salary than the $7.5 million the Cubs gave him.
Lee would have been a free agent after this season, and the Orioles didn't want to make him a one-year rental. To fill their first base void, they signed Rafael Palmeiro to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with an option for 2005.
Around the horn
Ponson, who has already been named to start the Orioles' regular-season opener, will start the team's first exhibition game Thursday against the Marlins. ... Left-handed pitcher Omar Daal was better yesterday after getting pulled from Saturday's workout with a strained left quadriceps muscle. He said he'd be ready to pitch off a mound again today. ... Rob Ramsay, who is making his comeback from brain cancer surgery, has been cleared to practice and threw off a bullpen mound yesterday. ... The Orioles' regular-season opener on April 4 against the Boston Red Sox has been moved from ESPN to ESPN2.