C. Izturis appears at top of O's wish list at short

November 21, 2008|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

The Orioles have talked to the representative for free agent Cesar Izturis, the latest indication that the slick-fielding shortstop is at the top of their list to fill the team's vacancy at the position.

Izturis, 28, hit .263 this past season with one homer and 24 RBIs in 135 games for the St. Louis Cardinals. He's a career .260 hitter over parts of 10 major league seasons that also include stints with the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. Orioles president Andy MacPhail wouldn't comment on specific options, though he reiterated that finding a shortstop is one of his offseason priorities. The Orioles used six different shortstops in 2008, and none is on the team's 40-man roster.

"Whatever we are going to do, I am pretty confident that it's going to be a significant improvement over what we had, not that that is a high bar," said MacPhail, who has yet to make Izturis an offer.

Izturis, a Gold Glove winner in 2004 and an All-Star a year later, is a cheaper alternative than Rafael Furcal, Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria, the three highest-profile free-agent shortstops.

According to industry sources, the Orioles don't have interest in any of the three for a variety of reasons. Furcal is coming off a back injury this past season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and is probably going to be out of the Orioles' price range. If the Orioles spend big in the free-agent market this offseason, it would be on slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira or talented starting pitcher A.J. Burnett, both of whom have Maryland ties, not on a shortstop.

And Cabrera and Renteria are Type-A free agents, meaning the Orioles would have to surrender second-round picks if they signed either, something they would prefer not to do. If Cabrera and Renteria aren't offered arbitration by, respectively, the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers by Dec. 1, they could be signed without compensation, and that could affect the Orioles' decision. However, at this point, the team's focus is on Izturis.

"Cesar has received a lot of interest since the market opened up," said his agent, Chris Leible. "Certainly, Baltimore's situation would be one that Cesar would be interested in."

Aside from Izturis, the Orioles' other most viable shortstop options are available in trades. The Orioles have had discussions with the San Diego Padres about Khalil Greene and with the Oakland Athletics about Bobby Crosby, according to industry sources. This offseason, the Padres asked for left-handed starter Garrett Olson for Greene, but the Orioles weren't interested in the deal.

Crosby, who was seen as the heir apparent to Miguel Tejada as the A's shortstop, has played in more than 100 games just once in the past four seasons and has a career batting average of .239. However, it's his durability that concerns the Orioles most.

Other trade options include the Pittsburgh Pirates' Jack Wilson and the Milwaukee Brewers' J.J. Hardy. However, Wilson, like the Padres' Greene, could be a free agent after the 2009 season, and Hardy would cost more in terms of talent than the Orioles are prepared to give up. The Brewers presumably are looking for starting pitching in return for Hardy, but MacPhail has no interest in trading any of the organization's top pitching prospects.

That leaves Izturis as the most realistic - and affordable - option.

"Ideally, you'd like to have somebody there that we felt could play there for several years to come," MacPhail said. "Failing that, we would be looking for as accomplished of a player as we could find. But that is a position where we certainly put a high value on defense."

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