Lopez to get fresh start

Orioles trade him to Rockies, receive two minor leaguers

January 13, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

Rodrigo Lopez looked forward to putting his disappointing 2006 season behind him and proving again that he could be a reliable starting pitcher. He'll get that opportunity, but not as an Oriole.

Content with their pitching depth and not interested in paying a significant salary to a long reliever, the Orioles yesterday traded Lopez, their Opening Day starter for three of the past five seasons, to the Colorado Rockies for two minor league pitchers.

In return for Lopez, who went 60-58 with a 4.72 ERA in five seasons with the club, the Orioles acquired right-handed relievers Jim Miller and Jason Burch. Neither is considered a high-level prospect, though Miller, 24, is the more promising of the two, according to club officials.

The Orioles also re-signed reliever Todd Williams to a one-year, $775,000 deal with $300,000 available in incentives. Williams, who was nontendered by the club last month, went 2-4 with a 4.74 ERA last season and led the staff with 62 appearances.

"We talked about potentially keeping [Lopez] for depth, but you have to make some tough decisions," said Orioles vice president Jim Duquette. "We feel like we have enough depth with Hayden Penn as a guy that is going to compete for a starting spot, and we have Garrett Olson right behind him. At some point, you have to look at giving other people opportunities."

Lopez, 31, twice a 15-game winner in Baltimore, lost his spot in the rotation last year when he went 9-18 with a 5.90 ERA. The right-hander's 18 losses were the most in the major leagues and were tied for second most in a season in franchise history.

The Orioles acquired starting pitcher Jaret Wright from the New York Yankees in a November trade to fill out their rotation and also upgraded the back end of their bullpen in free agency. If he returned to the team, Lopez, who is eligible for salary arbitration, likely would have been a $4 million long reliever. Neither the club nor Lopez, would have been comfortable with that.

"I think they knew I wouldn't be happy [as a reliever]," Lopez said last night. "I probably wouldn't have been happy to go to spring training with the Orioles since they don't want me in the rotation. I think it is better to start from the beginning with a new team and as a starter."

Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan acknowledged that Lopez's reluctance to be a reliever, something he has voiced several times in the past, factored into the deal. "I didn't think [Lopez] would be happy here, and in his defense, he sort of has earned the right to be a starter," Flanagan said. "He won 60 games in five years here."

Lopez spoke to Duquette and Flanagan after the trade was completed and thanked the organization, which signed him as a minor league free agent in 2001. The pitcher said he maintains no bitterness toward the Orioles.

In Colorado, he'll be reunited with his former battery mate in Baltimore, Javy Lopez, who agreed to a free-agent deal with the Rockies this week, and his former Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley, a Rockies executive. Lopez said he got a congratulatory call yesterday from Javy Lopez, whom the pitcher credited for temporarily resuscitating his 2006 season.

"I had a great time with the Orioles," Rodrigo Lopez said. "I know last season was difficult, but I believe things happen for a reason. If I would change something with the Orioles, I would like to leave Baltimore with a better year. The fans there were always very supportive and that was not the best way to go out. But there is no sadness here. Definitely, it was the time."

Lopez would not blame pitching coach Leo Mazzone for his disappointing 2006, a season in which he allowed the most earned runs (124) in the American League. One club source said the two "obviously didn't see eye-to-eye," and Lopez acknowledged as much.

"I don't blame anybody in particular, but it was a little bit of everything," Lopez said. "I was probably trying to be someone else that didn't fit for my pitching style, and that got me in a bad slump. I think Leo is a good guy. We probably didn't match, but I won't blame Leo for everything that happened to me."

As many as eight teams inquired about Lopez, but very few were offering major league talent in return. The Rockies and Texas Rangers were the most aggressive suitors.

Miller, a 24-year-old right-hander, was 0-3 with 12 saves and a 3.86 ERA in 45 appearances for Double-A Tulsa last season. He was named the top reliever in the Single-A California League by Baseball America in 2005 and also was named the Rockies' outstanding minor league performer that year.

Burch, also 24, went 3-4 with a 4.95 ERA in 45 games at Tulsa last season. Both could start the season in Triple-A Norfolk.

Note -- The Orioles have given shortstop Miguel Tejada permission to finish the winter ball season in the Dominican Republic. Tejada wants to get some at-bats before spring training.


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