If the Orioles don't trade for a young center fielder in the coming weeks, they will likely turn their attention to last year's Opening Day starter, Corey Patterson.
"I have had discussions with his representative, Scott Boras, and they are familiar with our interest," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said. "We have agreed we will touch base a little later."
A month ago, it seemed unlikely Patterson, 28, would return to Baltimore. The Orioles hadn't pursued him, and a half-dozen teams were actively searching for a starting center fielder.
But the Washington Nationals, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and San Diego Padres filled their needs through trades, and the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angels added big-money free agents Aaron Rowand, Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter, respectively.
That has left Patterson, who batted .269 with eight homers and 37 stolen bases in 132 games with the Orioles last year, playing the waiting game.
"From what I have been hearing a few months ago, there were a handful of teams out there [with interest]," Patterson said. "But you're stuck in the middle, and if there's a trade, if one player goes here or there, it can have a trickle-down effect. So you just have to wait."
The only teams with money to spend and a distinct need in center are the St. Louis Cardinals and Patterson's hometown Atlanta Braves. But the Cardinals are already left-handed heavy in the outfield, and the Braves have not aggressively pursued Patterson. Other teams that could use an upgrade include the small-market Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates.
Patterson isn't the only center fielder looking for a job. Former All-Stars Mike Cameron, who is facing a 25-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant, and Kenny Lofton, 40, are also still on the free-agent market.
The Orioles have little to no interest in those veterans. But re-signing Patterson, who is the best defensive center fielder the team has had in a decade, is intriguing - especially if it is for a one-year deal while the club rebuilds. Jay Payton, Tike Redman and possibly Chris Roberson are in the starting center-field mix.
"I think Corey is a guy that definitely deserves consideration," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "I think he fits into what we are trying to establish with pitching and defense. He has speed at the top of the lineup, he's a good base runner and he covers a lot of ground in the outfield. A guy that has those baseball skills is attractive. I like that kind of player for what we are trying to do."
Part of the holdup on the Orioles' end is that they are still exploring trade possibilities, which could include the Seattle Mariners' Adam Jones in a deal for pitcher Erik Bedard or a Chicago Cubs outfield prospect in a Brian Roberts trade. If one of those happens, there won't be a spot for Patterson.
But if the Orioles' asking price for Bedard and/or Roberts isn't met soon, MacPhail said, the club must focus on other ways to fill its 2008 holes. That's when the Patterson talks could heat up.
"I think the Orioles are still waiting to make some trades, but they are talking to Scott and we'll go from there," Patterson said. "I've said from Day One, since the 2007 season started and I was going to be a free agent, that I want to play. Period. Any team that shows interest in me, I would definitely show interest back to them."
Arbitration filings -- The arbitration filing period for players began Saturday and lasts until next Tuesday. The players and the clubs exchange figures Jan. 18. If the sides can't come to an agreement, a hearing will be held between Feb. 1 and 20. The Orioles have only two players who are arbitration-eligible: starters Bedard and Daniel Cabrera. Redman would have been, but he agreed to a split contract earlier this offseason that will pay him in excess of $500,000 if he remains in the big leagues all year.
Wieters invited? -- The Orioles haven't announced their spring training invitees yet, but one of the most recognizable names will also be among the youngest in camp. Catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles' first-round draft pick, is expected to get a big league firstname.lastname@example.org