Agent: O's can probably count Benson in

Pitcher probably won't exercise trade demand

pursuit of Japanese star Matsuzaka likely out of reach

November 08, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

O's can likely count Benson in It appears that Kris Benson will be in the Orioles' 2007 rotation, with his agent saying yesterday that the right-hander is unlikely to exercise his contractual right to demand a trade.

However, as expected, the five-man rotation probably won't include Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

An industry source familiar with the Orioles' plans said that the club likely will not put in a bid for Matsuzaka before this afternoon's deadline. The bidding for just the right to negotiate with the 26-year-old pitcher ends today at 5 p.m., when the commissioner's office will inform the Seibu Lions, the team Matsuzaka played for in Japan last season, of the highest bid for the pitcher.

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette declined to comment when asked if they had made or plan to make a sealed bid, saying Major League Baseball has prohibited teams from discussing the situation.

However, even if they made a bid, the Orioles were considered a long shot for the pitcher, whose price tag could be around $80 million when considering the bidding fee and the cost of working out a long-term contract with Matsuzaka's agent, Scott Boras.

The Orioles are looking for a slightly cheaper and more major league-experienced pitcher to join a rotation whose elder statesman is Benson, 32.

Because Benson was acquired in a trade last offseason from the New York Mets, he had the right to ask for a trade after the 2006 season as a player with five or more years of experience traded in the middle of a multi-year contract.

His agent, Gregg Clifton, said that Benson has gone back and forth on the decision, but the pitcher is happy in Baltimore. Benson, who likely will inform the club of his decision in the next few days, has until the weekend to make it official.

"I am pretty sure he's not going to exercise it," Clifton said. "Kris likes Baltimore. I think when he weighs all the positives and the negatives, there's a [heck] of a lot more positives for Baltimore."

Clifton said that Benson, who spent the first 7 1/2 years of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, just wants to be assured that the Orioles are committed to winning.

"He's at the point of his career where he wants to be in a franchise where they want to win," Clifton said. "I think he knows the Orioles are trying to do that."

Benson, who went 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 2006, is due to make $7.5 million next season. Clifton has talked to the Orioles about exercising Benson's 2008 option, but the Orioles likely will wait until after the 2007 season.

In other news:

According to a club source, the Orioles continue to hear from teams inquiring if All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada is available, and their stance has not changed.

The Orioles are not shopping the shortstop, whom they plan to use to help recruit other free agents this offseason, yet will at least listen if other teams are intent on making an offer.

It probably would take three players for the Orioles to trade the former Most Valuable Player, with a top-of-the-rotation pitcher being a prerequisite in most deals. The club source described the chances of Tejada getting traded as "remote."

The Orioles' top executives have spent the past few weeks phoning agents to express interest in free agents, including outfielders Alfonso Soriano, and Carlos Lee and third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Asked about the Orioles' interest in Lee, Adam Katz, the agent for the Texas Rangers slugger, said: "They've expressed some preliminary interest and it's mutual."

Several national reports have linked the Orioles to free agent Barry Bonds. However, the Orioles, wary of the baggage that comes with Bonds, have no interest at this point in the San Francisco Giants slugger, according to several team officials. The Orioles will open the 2007 season on Monday, April 2, at 8:10 p.m. at Minnesota. It will mark just the 16th time in 54 years the Orioles will open the season on the road and just the second time they have opened with a night game.

The Orioles' home opener will be on Monday, April 9, at 3:05 p.m. against the American League champion Detroit Tigers. The schedule also features a home-and-home series with the Washington Nationals along with home interleague series against the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks, and road interleague series against the Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres.

Game times have not been announced.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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