O's stay centered in quest to add starting pitching

With deal for Beltran unlikely, team turns focus to A's Hudson

Baseball

December 08, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie noted yesterday how center field is the most challenging position to fill among the outfield spots because the options are limited. And it doesn't appear that free agent Carlos Beltran is going to provide a solution.

Beattie confirmed yesterday that the Orioles haven't engaged in any discussions with agent Scott Boras, whose list of high-profile clients includes Beltran - the most attractive player on the market - outfielder Magglio Ordonez, pitcher Derek Lowe and third baseman Adrian Beltre.

"We've kind of exchanged messages," Beattie said, "but we haven't had a conversation."

Beltran, 27, batted .267 with 38 homers and 104 RBIs this year for the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros. The switch-hitter also stole 42 bases in 45 attempts and made the National League All-Star team.

Often unnoticed while playing in Kansas City, Beltran grabbed headlines with the Astros after batting .435 with eight homers and 14 RBIs in 12 postseason games.

Asked if Beltran is on the Orioles' radar, Beattie said, "Not at this point. It's not something that we're pushing to get done right away, but we'll probably have a conversation with Scott at some point just to see where it all is."

Beltran made $9 million in 2004 and can expect a significant raise. The Astros reportedly have offered $70 million over five years, but Boras will try to negotiate a larger deal at the winter meetings that begin Friday in Anaheim, Calif.

Those meetings will allow Beattie and vice president Mike Flanagan to continue talks with Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane that could significantly change the Orioles' rotation.

Tim Hudson has emerged as the most likely of Oakland's Big Three starters to be dealt. The Orioles are a good match because they can provide a young starter in return, along with a second baseman or outfielder.

Because Hudson is a free agent after next season, the Orioles would have to negotiate an extension. Beattie believes Beane is open to trading one of his starters if it's the right fit.

"I don't get the sense that he's just giving the guys away," Beattie said.

Meanwhile, the Orioles reached agreement last night on a one-year major league contract with outfielder B.J. Surhoff, who batted .309 in 100 games. They had until midnight to offer him arbitration, but a deal was completed about three hours before the deadline.

Though the Orioles waited until the winter meetings to sign free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada last year, their negotiations had progressed enough that a deal could be finalized in New Orleans. But the market is moving at a different pace for most clubs in 2004.

"Last year, I thought our conversations were further along," Beattie said. "This year, whether it's the industry as a whole or not, I think rather than being an end to some potential contracts, the winter meetings will probably be more of a start for a lot of teams."

Beattie spent about 45 minutes fielding questions from reporters during a luncheon at the B&O warehouse. The session didn't bring any revelations - the Orioles still want at least one front-line starter and reliever, an outfielder, first baseman and backup catcher - but he offered a few tidbits:

Asked if he'd be willing to offer four years to a free-agent pitcher, Beattie said, "It's not something that I'd jump on right now."

Brian Roberts won't be subjected to a competition at second base next spring. Beattie said the job belongs to Roberts, which makes it more likely that Jerry Hairston will be traded.

Still under the 40-man roster limit, the Orioles could add a pitcher for their bullpen through the Rule 5 draft that's part of the winter meetings agenda.

Any player drafted must stay on the roster all season or be offered back to his original team for $25,000. Beattie indicated that the Orioles would consider taking a pitcher, but not a position player.

Outfielder Jay Gibbons will be examined by team doctors in Baltimore next week after head trainer Richie Bancells visits him in Phoenix. Gibbons continues to work out after recovering from a torn hip flexor and bulging disc in his back.

The Orioles must decide whether to tender Gibbons a contract by the Dec. 20 deadline.

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