In search of bat, O's make Huff an offer

December 30, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

Still looking to add an impact bat to the middle of their lineup, the Orioles made a contract offer yesterday to Aubrey Huff, one of the most accomplished players left on the free- agent market.

Exact details of the contract offer are unknown, but one industry source said the Orioles proposed a three-year deal to Huff, worth in the neighborhood of $6 million per season.

Huff's asking price has gone down significantly since the opening of free agency. One baseball executive, whose team has talked to Huff's representatives, said the 30-year-old, who can play first and third base and the corner outfield spots, was seeking a three-year deal worth around $7.5 million per season. The Orioles' initial offer is not believed to be that high.

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan acknowledged early yesterday afternoon that the club is in talks with Huff's agents, but at that point, he said no offer had been made.

"We've had conversations with his agents, but we've had conversations with a lot of agents," Flanagan said.

The Orioles also have had dialogue with the agent for first baseman-outfielder Craig Wilson, but according to one source, the two sides have not had much discussion the past couple of days. That is an indication that Huff, who has 20 or more homers in five straight seasons and 90 or more RBIs in three of the past four seasons, has become the club's prime target. It is unlikely the Orioles would sign both barring a trade.

The Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates also are believed to be pursuing Huff, though one industry source labeled the Orioles as "one of the favorites." If he signed with the Orioles, Huff undoubtedly would get plenty of at-bats and he'd also get a chance to play regularly at Camden Yards, where he's always performed well.

Over seven major league seasons, Huff is a career .285 hitter at Camden Yards. Against the Orioles, the left-handed hitter has a .297 average and more home runs (20) and RBIs (63) than against any other team.

Several Orioles have endorsed Huff to the front office. "I like that guy," Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora said earlier this month. "He'd have like 200 homers at Camden Yards. Every time he goes to Camden Yards, he comes back with two or three."

Huff hit .267 this past season with 21 homers, 66 RBIs, a .344 on-base percentage and a .469 slugging percentage, while playing for both the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Houston Astros, who traded for him on July 13. Huff struggled in his transition to the National League, hitting .250 with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs in 68 games for the Astros.

His best season came in 2003 when he hit .311 with 34 home runs and 107 RBIs while playing in all 162 games. He followed that up by driving in 104 runs in 2004, though his numbers have decreased the past two years.

That does not seem to bother the Orioles, who are desperate to add a run producer to help shortstop Miguel Tejada in the middle of the lineup and don't want to trade one of their young pitchers to do it.

If the Orioles signed Huff, who isn't known for his glove, it's likely he'd play a variety of positions, including sharing time at first with Kevin Millar, in left field with Jay Payton, at designated hitter with Jay Gibbons, along with occasionally giving Mora the day off at third.

Note -- The Orioles are closing in on a one-year deal with starting pitcher Daniel Cabrera, which would avoid salary arbitration. Erik Bedard, Rodrigo Lopez, Corey Patterson and Brian Roberts are the other Orioles who are eligible for

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