Roberts extension latest of O's long-term lockups

Commitment to keeping core players has emerged under Duquette

March 15, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- Brian Roberts was having dinner with his parents Tuesday night when the rhythmic buzzing of his phone got his attention. When he looked down, he saw a text message from a former teammate and longtime friend that started with the word "Congratulations."

Roberts, who earlier in the day learned that his two-year, $14.3 million contract extension with the Orioles had been finalized, worked quickly to return the text. The first thing the second baseman wrote to B.J. Ryan was "Thanks."

It was about 15 months ago that Ryan, who became an All-Star closer in an Orioles uniform, left the organization, signing a five-year, $47 million deal with the division rival Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles could have signed him to a contract extension a year earlier but never could close a financial gap of about $4 million, and Ryan left, following a similar script that led to the departure of the organization's last true pitching ace, Mike Mussina.

Ryan's situation added to the organization's reputation for not taking care of its own. But about two months after Ryan's departure, the Orioles agreed to a four-year extension with outfielder-designated hitter Jay Gibbons. Third baseman Melvin Mora signed a three-year extension four months later, and Roberts, a second baseman and former All-Star, got his yesterday.

"I think it was important for us internally," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said when asked if Ryan's exit led the organization to be more focused on retaining its players. "We didn't do it for any external matter. Internally, we targeted players we felt were our core players and players that we wanted here. Certainly, Brian falls into that category."

Is it a coincidence that, since Ryan's exit, the Orioles locked up their three longest-tenured position players? Does Roberts have Ryan to thank for more than just his congratulatory message? The answers to those questions differed.

"I don't really think that [Ryan's situation] affected any of us who were left," said Roberts, 29. "There are a lot of organizations that let somebody go and sign somebody else and it has absolutely no impact on anybody else around them."

Gibbons said each case was different, but acknowledged he wouldn't be surprised if Ryan's situation affected the Orioles' mind-set.

"I think the organization saw what happened with losing him and it probably changed their outlook about certain things, like, `Maybe we should lock guys up sooner rather than later,'" said Gibbons, who cited the hiring of vice president Jim Duquette in October 2005. "I think once Duquette came in, we saw a change. Most organizations, this is how they do it. They don't have 25 guys on one-year contracts. That's just not the way to run a team."

Duquette said when he interviewed with the Orioles, one of the topics discussed was the retention of the club's core players.

"It was known industry-wide what had happened [with past players]," Duquette said. "I asked [in the interview], `What direction do you want to go? Do you want to lock some of these guys up or do you want to trade them off and go young and rebuild?' From the very beginning, it was always, `We want to win. We've had enough of this losing.' The best way to do that is to lock up your core players.

"I don't know if you can point to anything in particular, if the B.J. Ryan thing changed the mind-set of the organization. All I can speak to is since I've been here, the philosophy is: `Let's lock up our core guys if we can do it.' Brian Roberts is considered one of the best at his position. He's one of the premier leadoff guys in the game. Melvin, Gibbons, Brian - these are easy guys to try to lock up."

Asked who is next in line for an extension, Duquette said nothing is imminent, but mentioned starting pitcher Erik Bedard. Bedard, who, like Roberts, is represented by Mark Pieper, said he'd like to stay in Baltimore - he is still under Orioles contractual control through 2009 - but hasn't been approached about an extension.

"[The extensions] are a change, but it has nothing to do with me," said Bedard, who acknowledged the Ryan negotiations probably didn't set a good precedent. "It doesn't mean it is going to happen for me, and it doesn't mean it is not going to happen."

Roberts hit .286 last year with 10 home runs, 55 RBIs and 36 steals, making a successful return from extensive offseason left elbow surgery. Under contractual control with the club until 2008 before the deal was completed, Roberts will make $4.2 million this season, $6.3 million in 2008 and $8 million in 2009. His contract also includes a limited no-trade clause that allows him to veto a trade to four teams of his choosing.

His salary for 2007 was already set after the club avoided arbitration with a one-year pact last month, but the deal essentially amounts to a three-year deal worth $18.5 million.

With the escalating salaries in the sport, Roberts said he thought about free agency.

"Sure, I think everybody is tempted, especially with the way the market was this winter, but you realize it's two years away and a lot could happen," he said. "Then, I also realize that this is where I want to be. I do want to see this organization win. You can always pack up and go somewhere that is easy or somewhere ... that you know is going to spend $100 [million] or $200 million to try to win. But when you've been through what we've been through, I want to see this city win. I know that this is a great city when you win. I know the fans are there, I know the passion is there. And I want to see that. I really do."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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