Payton relishes place in East

O's new outfielder ready `to battle ... two Evil Empires'

December 12, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles' second-tier status in the American League East often works against them during free agency. However, for their newest player, it was one of the main draws to signing with the Orioles.

"I love trying to battle ... the two Evil Empires, I call them, between Boston and New York, and knock those teams off," said Jay Payton, the 34-year-old outfielder, who hit .296 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs for the Oakland Athletics last season. "It's a lot of fun to go into the stadiums and play in front of those crowds with all that energy."

Payton passed his physical yesterday and finalized a two-year deal worth $9.5 million, becoming the Orioles' only right-handed-hitting outfielder. The club's outfield picture will get even clearer today, as the Orioles are expected to announce that they have non-tendered outfielder and utility man David Newhan, a fan favorite in Baltimore after he burst on the scene in 2004 and hit a pinch-hit home run in his first Orioles bat.

Reliever Todd Williams, who was 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA, is also expected to be non-tendered by tonight's midnight deadline for teams to tender contract offers. Newhan, who hit .252 last season with four home runs and 18 RBIs while limited to 39 games, was informed of the Orioles' plan by his agent yesterday.

"It's frustrating to get injured and it's frustrating they gave up on me, but like I said, I definitely don't want to burn any bridges there," Newhan said. "I had a great time. ... I felt like we were going to get a deal done and negotiate in earnest. And then they came back and said I was going to be non-tendered.

"I'm going to land on my feet. ... This is not something that I'm ripping the phone out of the wall or anything. I'm not going to badmouth anyone over there."

Newhan had essentially secured the starting left field job last season when he fractured his right fibula while stealing second base on April 17. However, the Orioles felt that the addition of outfielder Adam Stern, whom they acquired from Boston for Javy Lopez, made the 33-year-old expendable.

Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said yesterday that the club is still considering signing a veteran outfielder to an incentive-laden deal. He has kept in contact with the representatives for free agents Shannon Stewart, Ryan Klesko and Trot Nixon, while not ruling out Aubrey Huff, who would almost certainly demand a multi-year deal. The Orioles also are still trying to find a third team to take pitcher Rodrigo Lopez and facilitate a trade that will bring them Detroit Tigers outfielder Marcus Thames.

But as things stand, Payton, who can play all three outfield positions and likely will be used in center to get Corey Patterson out of the lineup against tough left-handers, would be the Orioles' Opening Day left fielder.

"If I play the way I am capable of, I am not going to worry about my at-bats," said Payton, who led the American League West champion A's last season with a .296 average, 165 hits and 32 doubles. "I am going to get my playing time and if we are winning ballgames, that's really the bottom line."

Payton lives in Raleigh, N.C., and said that he wanted to play closer to his family. His mother, Beth, whom he called his biggest fan, stayed up well past midnight last year to watch A's games on TV.

He also is very familiar with the Orioles' roster after having played with Kevin Millar, Melvin Mora and Ramon Hernandez. Duquette was an executive with the New York Mets when they drafted Payton in 1994. The outfielder went to the playoffs with New York in 2000 and with Oakland last season.

"The two teams I went to the playoffs with weren't any more talented than this team is," he said. "If you come out and play the way you are capable of and the cards fall in the right place, anything can happen."

NOTE -- The Orioles were selected to play the Mets in the 2007 Hall of Fame Game on May 21 at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. It will be the Orioles' sixth scheduled appearance in baseball's only in-season exhibition game.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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