All Gibbons wants: a fair shot at first

December 22, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

The Orioles nearly made a deal for Atlanta Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche and have made trade inquiries about a number of other first basemen, including Ben Broussard, Richie Sexson and Chris Shelton.

They are having discussions with the agents for Craig Wilson, Aubrey Huff and Carlos Pena, all of whom can play first base, and have re-signed Kevin Millar and vowed to give Jay Gibbons a chance to win the everyday first base job.

About two months before position players report to spring training, no spot appears more unsettled for the Orioles than first base.

"Obviously, Millar has played a lot of first base and Jay has played there some in the past," Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said. "We are looking at a lot of different options, but we are comfortable giving Jay an opportunity to come in and be the regular first baseman for us."

Duquette said that if no other additions are made, Gibbons and Millar would go to spring training and compete for the everyday first base job. That is all Gibbons wants: a chance to show that he can play the position rather than be the club's primary designated hitter.

However, Gibbons said this week that after hearing about the club's pursuit of several other first basemen, he wonders whether he will get the opportunity.

"It doesn't appear that I will get a fair shot, and that is all I am looking for," Gibbons said in a phone interview. "I don't know what the reasoning is. I am not going to pout about it. I am here, and what I really want is to win. But do I think I should be given a shot to win a job? Absolutely. Why not?"

Gibbons played first base in his minor league career, but he hasn't played there regularly since 2000. He was expected to be the club's regular first baseman in 2005 but played only 22 games there, making one error.

"You need to play there consistently," said Gibbons, who has started taking ground balls. "You can't just pick it up and be a Gold Glover."

Duquette has said several times that the club's main goal is to keep the often-injured Gibbons healthy. Last season, Gibbons, 29, played in only 90 games; he hurt his knee in late May, running into an outfield wall.

"I want to be in the lineup every day like they want me in there," said Gibbons, who while injured lost his starting right-field job to Nick Markakis. "But you can't change the past. Right now, I am 100 percent healthy and the injuries are a non-issue."

Gibbons knows that his desire to play first could be a moot point if the Orioles sign or trade for a first baseman. According to a team source, conversations have picked up in recent days with Steve Hilliard, the agent for Wilson, the former New York Yankee who intrigues club officials because of his ability to hit left-handed pitching.

The Orioles also continue to talk to the agents for Pena, a member of the Boston Red Sox last season, and Huff, probably the most accomplished offensive player left on the free-agent market. No formal offer is on the table for either.

According to one source, the Orioles initially flinched at Huff's asking price; however, it has come down significantly, and one industry source believes Huff is now looking for a three-year deal worth around $23 million.

Huff, who drove in 90 or more runs in three of the past four seasons, also has attracted interest from the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates; the New York Yankees and Red Sox could be interested on a one-year basis.

The Braves and Orioles have not had significant conversations the past few days about LaRoche. At the winter meetings, the teams came close to a trade that would have sent second baseman Brian Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to Atlanta for LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles, but Orioles owner Peter Angelos wouldn't approve the deal.

After concluding that the Orioles wouldn't deal Roberts but still wanted LaRoche, the Braves asked about a package that included Orioles closer Chris Ray, according to a source, but at this point, the teams are not aggressively discussing a deal.

In other news:

The Orioles sent a scout last week to watch a workout held by free-agent outfielder Shannon Stewart, who is trying to prove to suitors that he is healthy after playing just 44 games for the Minnesota Twins last season because of foot problems.

According to one industry source, the Orioles liked what they saw and could be interested in Stewart, 32, at the right price. Stewart, who has battled plantar fasciitis the past three seasons, is a career .299 hitter, but he has played in fewer than 100 games two of the past three years.

Gregg Clifton, the agent for free-agent pitcher Mark Mulder, said the Orioles are not involved in the bidding for his client.

The Orioles could make an offer soon to reliever Todd Williams, who was non-tendered by the club earlier this month.

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