After flurry, Orioles likely to wait awhile

With three key needs filled, club expected to sit tight until 2010 before acting again

Holliday, A. Gonzalez not high on radar, team official says

December 18, 2009|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

With three of their biggest offseason needs seemingly filled a week before Christmas, the suddenly aggressive Orioles are now expected to adopt a wait-and-see approach before putting the final touches on their 2010 roster.

After adding veteran starter Kevin Millwood in a trade with the Texas Rangers last week and agreeing to terms with left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez and former Colorado Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins on Wednesday, team officials acknowledged that their next move probably won't come until 2010.

When it does, expect a lower-profile transaction, such as adding another corner infielder on a one-year deal or re-signing left-handed pitcher Mark Hendrickson.

On Thursday, a team official shot down a report that the Orioles are pursuing St. Louis Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday, who the club believes would be too costly to acquire, and denied that they have made a significant effort to trade for San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.

Consequently, the Orioles' big-ticket shopping spree probably started and ended Wednesday, when they agreed, pending physicals, to a two-year, $12 million deal with Mike Gonzalez and a one-year, $4 million contract with Atkins.

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, as is his policy, would not comment on the deals until the players receive medical clearance.

Gonzalez, 31, who can earn $4 million in bonuses and escalation incentives, is expected to take his physical today in Baltimore.

"I am real excited," said Gonzalez, who was 5-4 with a 2.42 ERA in 80 games last season with the Atlanta Braves. "I wish it was spring training tomorrow."

Atkins, 30, whose contract includes $250,000 bonuses if he makes 550 and 600 plate appearances in 2010 and an $8.5 million option for 2011 with a $500,000 buyout, is expected to take his physical Monday or Tuesday.

"Baltimore is a great organization, Garrett is a great corner infielder and Baltimore was looking to sign a corner infielder," said Atkins' agent, Jeff Blanks. "It just makes perfect sense."

The Orioles entered the offseason seeking a top-end, innings-eating starter, a reliable closer and one or two corner infielders, preferably at least one that hits from the right side. In Millwood, Gonzalez and Atkins, those three needs seemingly have been met.

"I'm just sitting back here, watching it and loving it. I'm letting Andy do what he came here to do," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. "I'm letting him do his magic. He's in charge for a reason. I like all three moves, to be honest with you."

Added Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie: "I think the team has picked up three really good players. Starting-pitching-wise with Kevin, and then with Mike, an effective bullpen pitcher who has shown the ability to be a top-level closer. It's exciting to see the signing of Garrett Atkins, who has had a tremendous hitting career and will help us out defensively as well. They are some of the better players available, and we should be grateful to have them on our team."

Known for his deliberate approach, MacPhail struck aggressively in each instance, especially with Atkins, who was nontendered by the Rockies on Saturday after hitting a disappointing .226 with nine homers and 48 RBIs in 354 at-bats in 2009. MacPhail contacted Atkins' agent the next day and had cemented a deal by Wednesday.

"Andy called Sunday morning to express interest, and it's always flattering when you have a team call at the first moment," Blanks said. "It shows you're high on their radar."

Atkins was particularly intriguing to the Orioles because he is a right-handed power hitter - which the roster sorely lacks - and can play both first and third base. That flexibility allows the Orioles to wait out the free-agent market and perhaps pick up a potential bargain at one of the corner spots toward the end of the offseason.

If that fails, the Orioles probably would start Ty Wigginton at one of the corners or Michael Aubrey at first base.

The Orioles are also still looking for pitching help - something that also might not be available until late in the offseason.

Atkins was primarily a first baseman at UCLA before being selected in the fifth round in 2000 by the Rockies. He moved to third in the minors and has logged 642 major league games there and 105 at first base.

"He is comfortable at both; he doesn't really have a strong preference," Blanks said. "First base is his natural position, but he has gotten really good at third base."

Last season, Atkins started slowly, lost his starting spot to Ian Stewart and ended up in a platoon - a rough year for a player who had averaged 22 homers and 105 RBIs in his previous four seasons at hitter-friendly Coors Field.

The Orioles are banking on the hope that he can rekindle that form in 2010.

"Garrett was one of the best hitters in baseball," Blanks said. "Baltimore should give him an opportunity to regain his form and be one of the top hitters in baseball again."

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