Newest Oriole Huff happy to be here

Acquisition is likely club's last major offseason move

January 04, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

When Aubrey Huff passed his physical yesterday, finalized a three-year, $20 million deal and was introduced as the newest Oriole, it likely represented the last major move for the club in a busy offseason.

The Orioles signed nine free agents, including two of their own, and made two trades. The bullpen was overhauled, the starting rotation received a new member and the lineup was bolstered by two veterans with solid track records.

"It's one of those things where we don't know how good we are at this point," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan, who called Huff the type of hitter the club has been seeking all offseason. "I think we improved on paper. ... We expect our rotation to be better ... our bullpen to be better. We are optimistic.

"I still think there are some things to do, but I would say that we feel like we filled a lot of our needs to this point. But that doesn't mean we won't stop listening or entertaining some of the other trade possibilities along the way. But I would say we are feeling comfortable with where we are right now."

Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette said yesterday that the club's foray on the free-agent market probably has ended, aside from bringing back reliever Todd Williams, who was non-tendered last month but is expected to re-sign with the Orioles shortly.

Duquette also said the club has had some recent conversations with the agent for second baseman Brian Roberts about a contract extension. The Orioles are discussing both one-year - Roberts would avoid salary arbitration - and multi-year options.

Flanagan and Duquette vowed to continue engaging in trade dialogue, but essentially acknowledged that the Orioles' top young pitchers, who undoubtedly would be the key to making a significant trade, aren't available.

"All of those pitching contracts given out [to free agents] are further signs that we need to hold on to our young pitchers," said Duquette, who said that the club got some tempting offers for the likes of Erik Bedard, Hayden Penn and Daniel Cabrera.

At this point, the Orioles' most available player is starting pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, but the market for him has thinned recently, as several suitors, including the Milwaukee Brewers, have gone in other directions.

The Colorado Rockies have pursued Lopez most aggressively, but they have yet to make an offer that has intrigued the Orioles. Duquette said that the club would be fine with keeping Lopez and isn't concerned that the outspoken pitcher might become a distraction if he had to pitch out of the bullpen.

"He may not be happy, but I think he'll be professional about it," Duquette said.

Meanwhile, Huff, 30, who plays first and third base and both corner outfield spots, was all smiles after being introduced to the local media in a late-afternoon news conference.

"It's a great park, great fans," said Huff, a .285 hitter with 141 home runs over his seven-year big league career, which he spent entirely with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays until he was traded to the Houston Astros last July. "Every time I've come here, the fans have been great. Playing the Devil Rays on a Monday night and you have 30,000 people here. ... Honestly, with the history Baltimore has, it's something that I've never been a part of."

Huff said he talked to plenty of teams, but the Orioles were the most aggressive. Several Orioles recruited the left-handed hitter, including manager Sam Perlozzo, who had lunch with Huff last week in Tampa, Fla.

"I think on paper, we have a great chance to be competitive in this division," Huff said. "One through nine, the balance is there. It's honestly one of the best lineups I've ever been a part of."

While indicating that the lineup is up to Perlozzo, Flanagan and Duquette said Huff will most likely hit behind star shortstop Miguel Tejada and play a variety of positions.

It is expected that Huff will get the most time in left field, with Jay Payton, the club's other significant offensive addition, becoming the fourth outfielder on occasion or moving to center field against tough left-handers and forcing Corey Patterson to the bench.

Huff said he doesn't care where he plays as long as he is in the lineup. "My passion is hitting," he said.

"We certainly feel a lot better about the offense today than we did a week ago," Duquette said. "When you stick him in the lineup, it spreads out the rest of the lineup. So I think one through nine, we have balance."

Like Flanagan, Duquette remains cautiously optimistic.

"I think we're a lot better," Duquette said. "I think you have to be realistic. We've had nine straight losing seasons. Our goal is to be competitive and be around .500. Once you are in that area, then you can make a key trade to get you over the hump."

Notes -- The Orioles reached an oral agreement on a one-year deal with Cabrera, avoiding salary arbitration. ... To make room for Huff on the 40-man roster, the Orioles are expected to designate pitcher Anderson Garcia for assignment.

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