Near misses mark O's week

L. Gonzalez, Schmidt among the close calls

December 08, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The lobby at The Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel, which bustled with activity all week, was mostly empty when Gregg Clifton and Terry Bross emerged from the elevator a couple of hours after midnight yesterday.

The representatives for free-agent outfielder Luis Gonzalez looked haggard but satisfied after a long negotiation resulted in their client agreeing to a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Spotting a couple of reporters, Clifton stopped for a chat.

"We were this close," said Clifton, his fingers only a centimeter apart, indicting just how far Gonzalez was from becoming the Orioles' starting left fielder.

The gesture symbolized what was a grueling week for the Orioles' brass at baseball's winter meetings. The Orioles' top executives didn't return to Baltimore last night with a corner outfielder or a left-handed first baseman. In fact, they didn't return with much of anything, aside from a utility infielder, a minor league catcher and increased fatigue and frustration.

They couldn't get Gonzalez or standout free-agent pitcher Jason Schmidt, who was the recipient of a three-year, approximately $48 million Orioles offer that was guarded with such secrecy that it never was leaked to the media. Despite several tries, the Orioles couldn't cement a three-way trade for Detroit Tigers outfielder Marcus Thames or find an acceptable match for pitcher Rodrigo Lopez among eight suitors.

They did essentially agree to a trade that would have sent second baseman Brian Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles, but the trade was quashed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

And if all that wasn't enough, the Orioles yesterday lost Josh Phelps, a left-handed first baseman-designated hitter who was expected to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, in the Rule 5 draft to the New York Yankees.

"I wouldn't say we are frustrated, no," said executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "There are no deadlines on the end of these meetings. It's hard to believe there is a long winter to go. ... You just keep going forward."

The Orioles are trying to do that. They've made a two-year offer, worth about $9 million, to Oakland Athletics free-agent right-handed-hitting outfielder Jay Payton, according to a club source. Though a handful of teams are interested in Payton, 34, who batted .296 with 10 homers and 59 RBIs last season, the Orioles are the front-runners, said the source.

They continue to pursue three-way trade opportunities that would land Thames, 29, who hit .256 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs last season. Orioles officials would love to add both players. And a backup plan to Thames has emerged in Aubrey Huff, the free agent first baseman-DH who has always hit well at Camden Yards.

Orioles officials met with Huff's agent late Wednesday night and are now giving heavy consideration to making the former Tampa Bay Devil Ray an offer.

"These same players we are considering now, we talked about back in September," said Orioles vice president Jim Duquette, disputing the notion that the Orioles are completely in fallback mode. "We were hoping not to get to that part of the list, but we've had plenty of conversations on them."

The Orioles did make one minor deal, acquiring utility man Freddie Bynum from the Chicago Cubs for minor league pitcher Kevin Hart, but Duquette lamented how close they were to making many more. "We had a lot of deals that looked promising," he said.

Once considered a long shot to get Gonzalez, the Orioles eventually were runners-up to Los Angeles, who reportedly gave him a one-year deal worth slightly more than the Orioles' $7 million offer. Although there were times Wednesday night that the Orioles felt they had Gonzalez, they were told that Gonzalez ultimately decided he would stay out West.

"I think it was a West Coast bias we were up against," Duquette said.

Schmidt, a San Francisco Giants pitcher who was considered one of the top two free-agent arms along with Barry Zito, also eschewed Orioles' interest and ended up in Los Angeles.

After publicly stating several times that they would not get involved in the bidding on any of the top pitchers, the Orioles decided to make an offer this week, realizing that their top outfield targets were gone.

Considering themselves a long shot, they insisted on negotiating with Schmidt's representation quietly, concerned that they'd be used to up the bidding for other teams.

The Orioles, according to a source, offered a three-year, $48 million deal, about $1 million more than he got from the Dodgers.

"We made a very significant offer," Duquette said. "If you have a guy like Zito, who said specifically this is not a place [he'd want to play], why are we going to waste our time? That's why we try to get a sense if they are using us to jack up their price, but in this particular case, we didn't feel that way. If we did, we wouldn't have gotten in."

NOTES -- The Orioles made several attempts this week to acquire Chicago White Sox pitcher Jon Garland, but the asking price of starter Daniel Cabrera and pitching prospect Garrett Olson was deemed too high. ... The Orioles offered Lopez for Seattle first baseman Ben Broussard, but the Mariners wanted Jaret Wright. ... Reliever Aaron Rakers was designated for assignment. ... In the Rule 5 draft, the Orioles selected pitcher Alfredo Simon with the fifth pick and traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for their first-round pick, catcher Adam Donachie, and cash. Donachie, 22, split the 2006 season with Kansas City's Single- and Double-A affiliates, hitting .247 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 91 games. ... In addition to Phelps, the Orioles lost pitcher Kendy Batista and outfielder Lorenzo Scott (Double-A Bowie) in the Triple-A phase of the draft.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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