O's: Payton right for left

A's free-agent outfielder agrees to two-year deal, source says

December 09, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

The Orioles' monthlong quest to acquire a starting left fielder apparently has come to an end. According to an industry source, the Orioles have reached an oral agreement on a two-year deal with Oakland Athletics free agent Jay Payton, who will become the team's only right-handed-hitting outfielder.

Executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette acknowledged last night that the club has had significant conversations with Payton's agent, Craig Landis, though they wouldn't confirm that an agreement had been reached.

Landis also did not return a phone call yesterday.

However, the source said the two sides agreed yesterday to a two-year deal worth approximately $9.75 million. The deal will be pending a physical, which isn't expected to happen until next week. Payton, 34, became the Orioles' main free-agent outfield target after Luis Gonzalez decided to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers early Thursday morning at baseball's winter meetings.

Gonzalez's agent told the Orioles that Gonzalez wanted to stay out West, but it was Payton's desire to play on the East Coast, along with the opportunity to play every day, that seemingly worked in the Orioles' favor.

"He seems to have an East Coast bias, which would be helpful," Duquette said Thursday, the day when negotiations started to heat up. "It's always nice to have those East Coast biases going for you once in a while."

Reportedly four teams were considering Payton, including the Texas Rangers, who did not want to give the player more than a one-year deal.

A nine-year veteran who can play all three outfield positions, Payton hit .296 last season for Oakland with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs and eight stolen bases. His best season came in 2003 when he hit .302 with 28 home runs and 89 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies. His power numbers have dropped significantly since leaving Coors Field after that season.

He had eight home runs in 458 at-bats for the San Diego Padres in 2004 and combined for 18 while playing for the Boston Red Sox and Oakland in 2005. Payton is a .284 career hitter with 105 home runs and 422 RBIs.

After not making a run at Alfonso Soriano and failing to sign Luis Gonzalez and Carlos Lee, the Orioles felt that Payton was the best free-agent outfielder available. He's a solid defensive player, and the Orioles also coveted his versatility in the outfield.

The Orioles still hope to acquire another right-handed-hitting outfielder, with their top target being the Detroit Tigers' Marcus Thames, 29, who hit .256 with 26 homers and 60 RBIs last season. The Tigers are willing to trade him, but the Orioles do not have any pieces, such as a young, left-handed-hitting outfielder or a left-handed reliever, that interest Detroit.

To overcome that, the Orioles have tried to swing a three-way deal with starter Rodrigo Lopez as their bargaining chip, but have watched two attempts, with the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, break down. As of yesterday, the Orioles still were looking for a third team that could help them land Thames.

If they acquire Thames, that would enable the Orioles to use Payton in center field to replace Corey Patterson against tough left-handers.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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