O's widen search for left fielder

As hopes for Gonzalez fade, Thames, Payton considered

December 07, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With the Orioles growing increasingly pessimistic about their chances of signing free-agent outfielder Luis Gonzalez, they have turned to other options, including the Detroit Tigers' Marcus Thames and free agent Jay Payton.

Late last night, the Orioles were considering a three-way deal with the Tigers and Houston Astros that would have landed them Thames, a 29-year-old outfielder who hit .256 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs last season.

According to two industry sources, the proposed deal had Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez headed to Houston, Astros outfielder Luke Scott going to Detroit and the Orioles getting Thames, who would have become the Orioles' only right-handed-hitting outfielder and the club's likely starter in left field.

However, the deal hit stumbling blocks late last night and might not be revived.

It appears it is going to take a three-way deal to get Thames because the Orioles can't meet either of Detroit's primary needs: a young catcher to back up Ivan Rodriguez or a left-handed setup man. The Orioles have little catching depth in their organization and their left-handed relievers - Brian Burres, Kurt Birkins and John Parrish - are unproven or health risks.

The Orioles had been in talks about a possible three-way deal with the Washington Nationals and Tigers on Tuesday night that would have sent Lopez to Washington, a Nationals player (possibly outfielder Ryan Church) to Detroit and Thames to Baltimore, according to two industry sources.

However, the three-way arrangement was never agreed on, leaving the Orioles to consider other avenues to acquire Thames, who was the Tigers' fourth outfielder last year.

Thames would remain an option even if Gonzalez surprised club officials and accepted the Orioles' offer, a one-year deal for approximately $7 million. Gonzalez's agent, Gregg Clifton, met with Orioles officials late Tuesday night and was expected to again last night. However, the Orioles had no plans to give him a two-year offer, which Gonzalez was seeking to come east.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who were believed to have the best offer on the table as of late last night, were the favorites to sign Gonzalez. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, Clifton said the 39-year-old was still open to other options, though he was nearing a decision.

"We're not waiting," Orioles executive vice president Jim Duquette said. "We're moving forward on some other options. We'll leave the offer on the table for a period of time, but at some point we have to move on. We've made him our priority and he's waiting to make some decisions. We respect that, but we're not going to let it stop our business."

Plan B for the Orioles is seemingly Payton, 34, a right-handed-hitting outfielder who batted .296 with 10 homers and 59 RBIs for the Oakland Athletics. No concrete offer has been made, but the Orioles have intensified talks with his agent, Craig Landis, and assuming they miss out on Gonzalez, an offer is expected shortly. According to one club source, the Orioles will offer a two-year deal for about $4.5 million per season.

Of the remaining free agents, the Orioles have little interest in Aubrey Huff, Cliff Floyd, Shannon Stewart, Ryan Klesko or Craig Wilson. The Orioles also have cooled on Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Rocco Baldelli because of an uncertainty about the asking price.

There is speculation that Cincinnati Reds slugger Adam Dunn might be available, and if that is true, he'd jump to the top of the Orioles' wish list. However, the Orioles wouldn't be interested in trading starter Erik Bedard for him and that's been the asking price in the past.

In other Orioles news:

The team acquired utility man Freddie Bynum, 26, from the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named. The player the Orioles trade won't be announced until after today's Rule 5 draft, but it is expected to be a minor league pitcher.

Bynum, a left-handed hitter, played in 71 games for the Cubs last season, batting .257 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and eight stolen bases. He played second base and all three outfield positions.

The trade for a utility man confirms that free agent Chris Gomez will not return to the club.

Catcher Paul Bako passed his physical yesterday, finalizing a one-year, $900,000 deal.

According to an industry source, the Orioles had talks about swapping outfielder/first baseman Val Majewski for Florida Marlins outfielder Eric Reed, but the dialogue died yesterday.

The Chicago White Sox - and not the Los Angeles Angels - are among a couple of teams this week that have contacted the Orioles about shortstop Miguel Tejada.

The Orioles have long coveted Chicago starter Jon Garland, and his name was discussed in the talks. But at this point, two club sources said that it was extremely unlikely that the Orioles would trade Tejada to the White Sox or anybody else.

The New York Mets became the latest team to inquire about Lopez. Duquette said eight teams are interested and three or four have made an offer. The Kansas City Royals offered outfielder Reggie Sanders for Lopez and were turned down.

It is a good possibility that the Orioles will nab a pitcher or a catcher in the Rule 5 draft, which essentially marks the end of the winter meetings. The Orioles have the fifth pick, but since three of the teams ahead of them are at the 40-man roster limit, the Orioles could get the second selection.

The Orioles also have entertained trade offers for the pick. If they make a selection, the player has to be on the 25-man roster for the duration of the 2007 season or must be offered back to his original team for $25,000.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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