Vesting option for Conine OK

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Perlozzo says pending salary won't affect veteran's use

Chen may start

July 26, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Kansas City, Mo. -- The Orioles could have a tough decision on their hands in the coming weeks regarding the future of Jeff Conine, who signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal in December with an option for a second season.

The option vests if Conine reaches 450 plate appearances and the 40-year-old is on pace to eclipse that mark with 320 plate appearances with 61 games remaining. Conine would earn $2 million next season if the option vests, a high price for a player who will turn 41 next June and is obviously not in the club's long-term plans.

Still, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said that the option has no bearing on his decisions and he'll continue to play Conine, who has been one of his team's hottest hitters over the past month, raising his average 34 points since June 22.

"I've been told not to let any of that stuff enter in my decision, so it won't," Perlozzo said. "I am out here to put the best team out on the field to win. I don't think that [other stuff] matters."

There's still a decent chance that the Orioles could trade Conine before Monday's non-waiver deadline, making his contract a non-issue. The St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners are among the teams that are interested in Conine, who would likely bring a mid-level prospect in return.

And even if Conine gets 450 plate appearances in an Orioles uniform this season, there's still no certainty that he'll return. Conine retains the right to void the option if it vests, a possibility if he won't be happy in a reserve role next season. It's also possible that Conine may decide to retire. He said recently that he'll sit down with his wife after the season and make a decision.

"If the plate appearance clause vests, it's going to be because he earned it," said Orioles vice president Jim Duquette, maintaining that the clause is not one of the club's concerns at this point. "That's why we negotiated the contract the way we did. He's been a productive player for us."

Appraising Hawkins' value

With the struggles of starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, reliever LaTroy Hawkins has emerged as probably the Orioles' biggest trade chip. At least a half dozen teams, including the New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies, have expressed interest in Hawkins, who has a 3.86 ERA.

However, the Orioles aren't likely to get back much more than a mid-level prospect or two for Hawkins, a free agent after this season. The Orioles have to decide whether giving up their top setup man for the rest of the season is worth two mid-level prospects.

Chen in running for Saturday start

Though a decision hasn't been finalized, it appears that Bruce Chen has emerged as the favorite to make Saturday's start against the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards.

Perlozzo mentioned Chen, Russ Ortiz and Daniel Cabrera as candidates, though he later acknowledged that the organization would like Cabrera to get a "start or two" more at Triple-A Ottawa. Top pitching prospect Hayden Penn hasn't served the required minimum 10-day option since he was activated from his rehab assignment, so he's not eligible to make the start.

Chen, who is 0-6, has made 10 starts this season, but none since May 31. He hasn't pitched more than four innings since May 26.

"If the team needs me and gives me the opportunity, that would be nice," Chen said.

`Timing is little off' for Gibbons

Perlozzo said that he has gotten positive reports on Jay Gibbons despite him going 0-for-13 in his first three rehab starts at Double-A Bowie and Single-A Frederick, respectively. Gibbons, who was 0-for-3 in Frederick last night, will continue his rehab for the next several days. The Orioles are hopeful he could be ready for Friday's series opener with the White Sox.

"He said his leg felt better the second day than it did the first day," Perlozzo said. "His timing is a little off. That's understandable. He's been out a few months. He needs at-bats. We know that."

Patterson sits

Perlozzo kept Corey Patterson out of the starting lineup because the center fielder is 1-for-13 for his career against Kansas City starter Mark Redman. Despite Patterson's .200 average against left-handers, Perlozzo said he has no plans to platoon him the rest of the way.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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