Healthy Hairston `ready to go'

Unsigned near deadline, Oriole says ankle fine, and so is playing center field

Baseball

December 18, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If second baseman Jerry Hairston is going to be offered a contract by the Orioles, it'll come after he receives the silent treatment.

The club has yet to approach Hairston with an offer, but multiple baseball sources predicted yesterday that he'll be tendered a contract by Monday's deadline.

Meanwhile, the Orioles have been trying to negotiate a one-year deal with right fielder Jay Gibbons, but he likely will be non-tendered Monday if no agreement is reached, team sources said.

Monday is the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to players eligible for arbitration.

Agent Casey Close has been contacted by numerous teams who are interested in signing Hairston if he becomes available, but the Orioles could choose to package him in a trade, knowing he's one of their more marketable players.

"I have an outstanding agent and we're prepared for anything," Hairston said yesterday from Tempe, Ariz., where he continues to work out daily with Gibbons and Brian Roberts, before returning to his Scottsdale home. "As it stands now, I assume I'm going to be with the Orioles through arbitration. That's just my assumption. But things can change. My agent doesn't assume that. And we've got to cover our bases.

"I know it's a business and I'm prepared for anything. A lot can happen in the next couple weeks, depending on who they sign and who they don't sign. But we have not discussed numbers at all. They haven't approached my agent. I don't know if that's good or bad."

Close couldn't be reached for comment.

Hairston made two strong statements yesterday, claiming that he was completely recovered from surgery Nov. 2 to remove a small piece of bone from his left ankle, which he fractured on Aug. 17, and saying that he would play center field if approached again by the Orioles.

Trainer Richie Bancells visited Hairston after the winter meetings to make sure his rehabilitation was on schedule.

"He just wanted to confirm that I'm 100 percent," Hairston said.

Hairston was walking two weeks after the surgery and jogging in four. He's gained weight and strength with assistance from a football trainer.

"I've been doing everything - running, jumping, lifting," he said. "I ran on the track three days ago and again today. I've been doing a lot of track and field stuff. I feel great. I'm ready to go."

As more teams find this out, it might become easier to trade Hairston, who made $1.65 million last season. The Orioles could tender him a contract and attempt to reach agreement on a one-year deal before going to arbitration.

A trade would allow Hairston to stay at second, but he sounded more open yesterday to changing positions, though he doesn't want to be perceived as trying to take Luis Matos' job. The Orioles are expected to tender Matos a contract on Monday despite another season cut short because of injury. Matos earned $975,000 this year.

"The one thing I feel really good about, whether I'm with the Orioles or I'm with another club, I feel confident knowing I could be a starting center fielder or a starting second baseman. There aren't many guys who can say that," Hairston said.

"I'm a big Luis Matos fan. I look at him as my younger brother, and I look at him as our starting center fielder. I don't want to step on anybody's toes. But as I said before, I feel very confident playing center field or second base."

Hairston objected to the move last season but went along with it until fracturing his ankle after landing hard on the warning track. He played all three outfield positions for the first time.

"Luis Matos, in my mind, is the starting center fielder. But if they came to me and said, `Hey, you are the starting center fielder,' that changes things. I wouldn't feel bad."

Gibbons, who made $2.6 million last season, appears to be recovered from hip and back injuries that limited him to 97 games and a career-low 10 homers. He could be an option at first base or right field, two positions the Orioles haven't been able to fill during the off-season, but industry sources doubt the team would go to arbitration with him.

Other players eligible for arbitration include pitchers B.J. Ryan, Rodrigo Lopez, Jorge Julio, John Parrish and Bruce Chen.

NOTES: The Orioles' search for a backup catcher probably won't lead them to A.J. Pierzynski, who informed the club yesterday that he wants to play every day. He could become an option again if no team is willing to make him a regular.

A source with Florida said it's "almost certain" that pitcher A.J. Burnett will begin the season with the Marlins rather than be traded, though he's expected to test the free-agent market next winter. The Orioles are interested in him.

Sun staff writer Joe Christensen contributed to this article.

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