Lopez won't concede O's spot

He's eager to take on Wright, others, but might be dealt

November 14, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

NAPLES, Fla. -- Rodrigo Lopez was working out at a gym in Arizona yesterday morning when something flashed across the television that drew his attention. For about a month and a half now, the veteran Orioles starting pitcher has tried to "disconnect" himself from baseball as to not conjure up memories of the most trying season of his career.

But with the television right in front of him, Lopez couldn't avoid the news. The Orioles had acquired former New York Yankees starter Jaret Wright in a trade for reliever Chris Britton. Lopez thought about it and resumed his workout, determined not to let the latest news, a trade that makes it increasingly likely that Lopez's career as an Oriole is over, bother him.

"It probably affects me one way or another with him being a starter," said Lopez, who was 9-18 last season with a 5.90 ERA, tying two other players for the second-most losses in a season in franchise history. "There has to be an effect on the rotation. I want to be a starter. I think I'll probably have to prove myself to them again, earn a spot again."

Lopez, 30, who has been the club's Opening Day starter three of the past four years, will have a lot of competition. At the start of baseball's general manager meetings yesterday, the Orioles boasted about having seven potential starters, and both executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette acknowledged that they are still shopping for an additional starter in free agency.

"We want to get as much pitching as possible," Flanagan said.

Wright joins a group that includes Lopez, Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera, Kris Benson, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn. With Flanagan acknowledging yesterday that Loewen has essentially earned a spot in next year's rotation, Lopez and Penn appear to be the odd men out barring a trade. And Flanagan did say yesterday that in talks with other general managers, "everybody was asking about our pitching."

While saying Penn, one of the organization's top pitching prospects, will get a chance to make the rotation, Duquette acknowledged recently that the club also will consider using him out of the bullpen, similar to how the Chicago White Sox used Brandon McCarthy last year. Lopez has had some success as a reliever, but at this point of his career, it's the last thing he wants.

"Right now, if they asked me to be in the bullpen, I'd probably have to think about it for a while before I said yes," he said. "What I want is to be a starter."

Flanagan, who said that Lopez would likely get a chance to start, acknowledged that the pitcher has a lot of value, pointing to the amount of money some of the middle-tier free-agent pitchers, many of whom lack Lopez's resume, will get on the market this year.

According to club sources, the Orioles have received inquiries about Lopez from a handful of teams, including the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies. A few weeks ago, the Orioles talked to the Brewers about a Lopez-for-outfielder-Kevin Mench swap, two industry sources confirmed, though the deal was never close to being completed.

Mench, 28, who is from Delaware, hit .269 last year with 13 homers and 68 RBIs, though he struggled after the Texas Rangers traded him to Milwaukee in the Carlos Lee deal. However in the previous two seasons, Mench hit a combined 51 home runs and drove in 144 RBIs.

Lopez said that despite his disappointing season, which he hopes will motivate him every day, he would prefer to remain an Oriole.

"I love Baltimore. I've made great friends on and off the field," he said. "I like the fans. Even after the season I had, they respected me. I'd like to stay there, but if I go somewhere else, I'll keep my head up and leave Baltimore with a good feeling."

Meanwhile, Wright, the man who might end up replacing Lopez in the rotation, said he was ready to turn the page.

"I actually liked the pressure," he said. "I liked being a Yankee and all that stuff. But you go to Baltimore. It's the first time I've been traded. It's kind of a different deal. But once it comes out, there's nothing you can do about it. You focus on what you have to do. Now I'm an Oriole and that gets all my attention."

Note -- Duquette met with several agents yesterday, including Adam Katz, who represents free-agent slugger Carlos Lee, and Sam Levinson, the agent of Kevin Millar, Cliff Floyd, Aubrey Huff and Mike Stanton. Duquette said the Orioles will likely make contract offers this week.jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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