O's trade Bigbie to Rockies for outfielder Byrnes

Mazzilli: Right-handed bat will help to balance lineup

July 30, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Unsure a few days ago whether they could pull off a trade before the non-waiver deadline, the Orioles found a partner in the Colorado Rockies and made their move.

In an exchange of slumping outfielders, the Orioles sent former No. 1 draft pick Larry Bigbie to the Rockies last night for Eric Byrnes, who has changed teams twice this season.

Bigbie was removed from last night's game against the Chicago White Sox in the fourth inning, and executive vice president Jim Beattie and manager Lee Mazzilli informed him of the trade. Mazzilli had been ejected earlier for arguing a call at third base.

"He's got a lot of energy," Beattie said of Byrnes. "He's a good defensive player, and he's an offensive player."

He's also locked up for two more years before becoming eligible for free agency. Byrnes is making $2.2 million this season, compared to $380,000 for Bigbie.

"We needed a right-handed bat to balance our lineup," Mazzilli said. "We've been looking at this for a while. I think it's going to be a good trade for both clubs."

Industry sources said last night that the Rockies will trade Bigbie to the Boston Red Sox for minor league catcher Kelly Shoppach, so his stay in Colorado could be brief.

"You're losing one of the greatest kids you could ever meet," Mazzilli said. "I told him that today. You love this kid as a son. He's a special person. He came in crying, and I know what the feeling's about. The first trade always hurts. It hurts bad. And it's going to be tough to get over. But he's got to get over it."

Byrnes, 29, has batted .267 since making his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics in 2000. The Rockies acquired him July 14 in a four-player trade, and he is hitting .249 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 74 games.

In 15 games with the Rockies, Byrnes was batting .l89 with five RBIs. He took over the starting job in center field after the Rockies traded Preston Wilson to the Washington Nationals.

Byrnes likely will bat second behind Brian Roberts and make most of his starts in left field, though he can shift to center or right. He hit .344 against left-handed pitching last year, and is 37-for-43 in stolen base attempts the past two seasons.

"He can run, steal bases. This is a move we have to make. We're acquiring a pretty good ballplayer," Mazzilli said.

Bigbie, the 21st player taken in the 1999 draft out of Ball State, is batting .248 with five homers and 21 RBIs. He went 0-for-1 last night, extending his slump to 9-for-42.

In four-plus seasons, Bigbie hit .271 with 31 home runs. Team officials became disenchanted with his defensive lapses this year and unmet power potential.

"When you're trying to get a player like Eric Byrnes here, you've got to give up a pretty good player to get him," Beattie said. "Larry is a player we still feel has some upside, and hopefully he'll improve and get a chance to play with Colorado a lot."

The trade rumors became a distraction for Bigbie. The Orioles were willing to package him in a deal for Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett.

"Obviously, he was expecting something to come along," Beattie said. "Sometimes those rumors don't necessarily prove to be true, but in this case they did. He wasn't totally surprised. He said, `Thanks.' He was very good about it, but the first time you're traded is always a difficult thing for a player."

The Orioles and Rockies began discussing trade parameters about a week ago but couldn't agree on an expanded package that once included prospects on both sides. They finally settled on a one-for-one deal.

"We exchanged a lot of names," Beattie said.

Byrnes, in the midst of a 4-for-32 slump, informed Mazzilli last night that he'd grab a late flight and arrive in time for today's game.

"He's ecstatic," Mazzilli said. "He's really looking forward to coming here. He's very excited, very high-energy on the phone."

He's the same way on the field.

"He goes out and gives you everything he has," said catcher Sal Fasano, a former teammate of Byrnes' in Oakland. "He should bring some excitement here, and we could use a little life right now."

Byrnes' best season came in 2004, when he hit .283 with 20 homers and 73 RBIs in 143 games. He put together a 22-game hitting streak in 2003.

Short on outfielders because of Jay Gibbons' recurring back spasms, the Orioles need Byrnes in today's lineup. He was expected to arrive in Baltimore around 5 a.m. and promised Mazzilli that he'd report to Camden Yards by 8 a.m.

"I told him, `You don't have to be here at 8,'" Mazzilli said.

Last night's deal might not be the final one as tomorrow's deadline approaches. The Orioles still want a front-line starting pitcher, but they're having trouble locating one.

"Two days ago, I don't know if I [would have] told you we would have been able to do this," Beattie said. "There are a lot of phone calls still going on, but whether there are more [trades] coming, I can't really tell you."

Ponson's X-rays negative

The Orioles still expect pitcher Sidney Ponson to make his next start, whether it's for them or another organization.

Ponson left Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers in the third inning after being struck in the right thumb by catcher Sandy Alomar's come-backer. He dropped to his knees to field the ball, shook his hand as Alomar reached on an infield hit, and walked to the dugout without waiting for trainer Richie Bancells.

X-rays were negative and Ponson didn't sustain any ligament damage.

"We're waiting to see what's going to happen with the soreness," Bancells said. "He should be able to make his next start. It's totally dependent on the soreness. What that goes, he's good to go."

Sun staff writers Jeff Zrebiec, Kent Baker, Dan Connolly and Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

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