J. Lopez catches on with Boston

Disgruntled Oriole gets wish as teams agree to a trade

August 04, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

After listening to Javy Lopez say publicly for several months that a trade would be the best thing for both sides, the Orioles finally granted him his wish, agreeing to send the disgruntled catcher and cash considerations to the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named.

Because the trade involves cash considerations of more than $1 million, the deal is pending commissioner's approval, but it should be completed no later than this morning, Orioles sources said.

"We are in conversations, but nothing has been finalized," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said last night.

The Orioles will likely get a mid-level field prospect in return for Lopez, 35, a catcher who is hitting .265 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs, but was struggling to get at-bats with Ramon Hernandez entrenched at catcher and Jay Gibbons at designated hitter.

They will also send about $1.2 million to the Red Sox to help offset Lopez's remaining salary, the sources said. Lopez, who cleared waivers yesterday, still has $2.74 million remaining on the three-year, $22.5 million contract he signed before the 2004 season.

Lopez did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment, but his agent, Chuck Berry, said last night that the three-time All-Star was preparing to fly to Florida, where he is expected to be in uniform tonight for the start of Boston's series against Tampa Bay.

"He's happy," Berry said. "Obviously, when you have an opportunity to go and play with a team that is up there right around first place, it's good. I think he feels a little frustrated and a little down that things didn't work out better with Baltimore. But especially since he's going to be a free agent at the end of the year, he's happy that he's going to have the opportunity to catch for a while."

With starting catcher Jason Varitek out a month after knee surgery yesterday, Lopez is expected be the Red Sox's regular catcher. He was supplanted in that role here when the Orioles, looking to upgrade their defense, signed free agent Hernandez in December.

About a month after signing Hernandez, Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette traveled to Atlanta to meet with Lopez. Berry told The Sun that Lopez wanted a contract extension or to be traded where he'd get a chance to catch.

He got neither, but Lopez did enter spring training expected to be the Orioles' Opening Day first baseman. However, aside from his time with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, he never looked comfortable at first, and his offense suffered, Lopez said. Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo decided to shelve the experiment and install Lopez as the club's designated hitter, a role that Lopez didn't like.

"It was a very frustrating year," Berry said. "First they brought in Hernandez, which was certainly their right to do. Then they talked about first base, and he really didn't get that much of an opportunity. He started off doing well, but he had a couple of games where he made errors and that was completely abandoned. And he doesn't really like DH-ing. I think you can probably say it was the most frustrating year of his career."

The Orioles tried to trade Lopez, but found little interest for a variety of reasons, including his contract, his diminished power numbers and several nagging injuries. When Monday's non-waiver trade deadline passed, Lopez, who caught only 19 games this season, was clearly annoyed to still be an Oriole, saying communication in the organization is "very, very poor." He also said he thought it made more sense for the front office to put him on waivers so he could go somewhere to catch more.

Informed of Lopez's comments, Duquette said: "If he wants to give back his salary, we would be happy to release him, but that's not anything we would expect him to do."

The trade will end a disappointing Orioles career for Lopez, who was one of four high-profile offseason signings before 2004, along with Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson. Lopez joined the Orioles after a season in which he hit 43 home runs and drove in 109 runs for the Atlanta Braves. But in a little more than 2 1/2 seasons with the Orioles, he hit 46 home runs and was consistently hampered by injuries.

"I don't think he was bitter," Berry said. "The Orioles in a sense created this situation by signing Hernandez, but on the other hand, that's their right. They've worked with us to make this as good as a situation as possible, but it's just been frustrating circumstances."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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