Possible trade for Burnett takes on a different shape

Source: O's exploring deal involving Marlins, Pirates

July 19, 2005|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,SUN STAFF

Despite indications from several media outlets that the Orioles' pursuit of Florida pitcher A.J. Burnett is a done deal, one source familiar with the negotiations said yesterday that the team won't obtain Burnett unless the Marlins remove struggling third baseman Mike Lowell from the pending trade.

Instead, the Orioles are now closing in on a three-way trade with the Pirates and Marlins that could yield them Burnett and Pittsburgh outfielder-first baseman Daryle Ward.

In exchange, the Orioles would offer a package that likely would include the same names as before: outfielder Larry Bigbie, reliever Jorge Julio and pitching prospect Hayden Penn.

Two of those, and perhaps all three, would be sent to Florida, which would also get pitcher Mark Redman. The Pirates would get Lowell, cash and prospects. It's unclear who will pay the bulk of Lowell's salary.

The three-way negotiations with the Pirates and Marlins are still in the discussion stage, the source said. It could be done today or take a week. The Pirates entered the talks, a source said, when the Orioles attempted to make the Marlins take starter Sidney Ponson and the $10 million remaining on his contract after this season.

As much as the Orioles would like to add Burnett, 28, to the top of their rotation, the club is hesitant to pick up Lowell's $18 million contract over the next two years, several sources said on condition of anonymity.

If the Marlins agreed to absorb a "substantial amount" of Lowell's contract, then the Orioles might reconsider the original deal if the talks with Pittsburgh don't progress, one source said. The Orioles also would not be opposed to making a trade just for Burnett, even if they cannot sign the pending free agent to an extension during a 72-hour negotiation period.

The holdup with the Marlins has been the inclusion of Lowell, a 31-year-old former All-Star who has struggled mightily this season. He was hitting .227 with four homers and 36 RBIs in 300 at-bats entering last night.

The Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays also reportedly have backed away from Burnett trade talks because they don't want to absorb Lowell's contract.

Ward, signed through this year for $950,000, likely would replace Bigbie in the Orioles' outfield. The 30-year-old left-handed hitter is batting .258 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs this season. Ward can play either corner outfield position and first base and has hit .280 against right-handers this season.

Burnett, however, is the key piece of any trade for the Orioles. The hard-throwing right-hander is 5-6 this season with a 3.64 ERA. He is scheduled to pitch tonight on the road against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Burnett would bolster a rotation that currently includes Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen and Ponson.

To make room for Bedard on the 25-man roster, the Orioles designated long reliever James Baldwin for assignment yesterday. That means if the Orioles acquire Burnett, they likely would move one of their starters - perhaps the struggling Ponson - to the bullpen to fill Baldwin's role.

By designating Baldwin, the Orioles have created the impression that they are about to add another starter.

"I am acknowledging there is talks going on that might impact the roster. That's all," team executive vice president Jim Beattie said yesterday in Minnesota. "That's why we waited [on the other roster move]. Otherwise, we might have tried to do something a little bit earlier, but we are respecting the information coming in and the timing of it, and you try not to make a move that would" adversely affect the bullpen.

If the Orioles do trade for Burnett, however, the team will request a 72-hour negotiation window from Major League Baseball.

One club source said the team had already entered negotiations with Burnett, but both his agent, Darek Braunecker, and the Orioles shot that down.

"If it has started, they started without us," Braunecker said.

A Major League Baseball spokesman said he did not believe the Orioles had made a negotiating request to the commissioner's office yesterday. The office has granted similar requests in the past, but the spokesman said it is done on a case-by-case basis.

Sun staff writers Jeff Zrebiec and Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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