Orioles 'disappointed' to have missed out on signing Victor Martinez

He was club's top free-agent target; focus shifts to other options at first base

November 23, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Before he spurned their offer and signed Tuesday with the Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez stood out to the Orioles in a free-agent first base market filled with aging and flawed sluggers.

The soon-to-be 32-year-old has been a model of consistency, batting .300 or better in five of his past six seasons and hitting 20 or more homers in four of those. As a member of the Boston Red Sox last year, the switch-hitting Martinez hit .400 against left-handed pitching, long a problem area for the Orioles. Primarily a catcher during his career, he is also known as a vocal leader.

All those things were extremely attractive to the Orioles, who made Martinez their top free-agent target and offered him a four-year, $48 million deal. However, the Orioles on Tuesday learned that their search for a first baseman will have to continue as Martinez agreed to terms on a four-year, $50 million pact with the free-spending Tigers, a development that disappointed team officials who felt that the veteran was their best free-agent fit.

"We're disappointed that Martinez is off the board," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "Now, we're looking at other options."

Those options include Lance Berkman, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena, who all come with question marks.

Berkman is 34 years old, and his numbers have decreased significantly the past two seasons. Lee is 35, and he's coming off a season in which he hit just .260 with 19 homers and 80 RBIs.

Dunn and Konerko are the most feared sluggers of the group, but Dunn doesn't want to be a regular designated hitter and the Orioles are wary of his defense at first base. Konerko has declined a lucrative offer from the Orioles before, and it's believed that he intends to return to the Chicago White Sox or head closer to his Arizona home.

LaRoche has hit 20 or more homers and driven in 78 or more runs in six straight seasons, but he's another left-handed hitter -- the Orioles already have Nick Markakis and Luke Scott in the middle of their order -- and not considered a game-changing slugger. Also a left-handed hitter, Pena has hit .227 and .196 the past two seasons and struck out 321 times during that span.

Well aware of the drawbacks of his other options, MacPhail was aggressive on Martinez, informing his agent, Alan Nero, that the player was one of the team's priorities. He made the four-year, $48 million offer during a face-to-face meeting at last week's general manager meetings in Orlando, Fla., according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Free-agent notes: Lee, a Type A free agent, was not offered arbitration by the Atlanta Braves, meaning the Orioles would not lose a draft pick if they signed him. … The Orioles did not bid on Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was posted by the Chiba Lotte Marines.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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