Orioles to bring back Izturis for utility role

Veteran, O's shortstop for past 2 seasons, agrees to one-year deal with Baltimore over other teams

December 10, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

Cesar Izturis' run as the Orioles starting shortstop is over. His stint with the club is not.

A day after acquiring shortstop J.J. Hardy from the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.5million deal with Izturis for him serve as the team's utility man.

The deal, which is pending a physical, also includes several incentives based on playing time that could take Izturis' 2011 salary a little closer to the $2.6million that he made in 2010, when he started 142 games for the Orioles at shortstop.

"We were anxious to bring him back, if only in a utility capacity," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "He's like having an additional coach on the field. With Hardy and [Brian] Roberts being nicked up for part of the time last season, we wanted to make sure we were comfortable with that backup, and Izzy gives us that comfort. He's just a good influence to have around."

Izturis, 30, had a strong year defensively in 2010 but was one of the least productive offensive regulars in the league, batting .230 with a .268 slugging percentage and a .277 on-base percentage. He is a career .256 hitter.

While effusive in their praise of Izturis, who might be the smartest Oriole on the field and is easily one of the most well-liked in the clubhouse, team officials have said all along that they wanted to upgrade the offense at that position.

That was the impetus behind Thursday's trade that landed them Hardy and utility infielder Brendan Harris for two minor league relievers. The inclusion of the versatile Harris in the deal seemed to be a sign the Orioles had moved on from Izturis.

However, they remained in negotiations with Izturis, and the infielder ultimately decided to return for a third season with the Orioles despite having more lucrative utility offers elsewhere.

"Cesar was courted by several teams, and he wanted to come back to Baltimore," said Chris Leible, who represents Izturis along with Peter Greenberg. "It was his first choice throughout. He was real excited [with] how the season ended and is excited to get back going again. He has been on some good teams in his career, and he wants to win. He was excited with [manager Buck Showalter] and how he changed the culture, and he wanted to be part of it."

Izturis is in Venezuela and was unavailable for comment. His physical will likely take place next week. Reliever Koji Uehara, who agreed to terms with the Orioles on Wednesday, is heading back from Japan and also expected to take a physical next week.

The moves the past two days have dramatically increased the team's infield depth, a necessary development considering Hardy has struggled with injuries the past two seasons and Roberts played in just 59 games at second base because of a herniated disk in his back.

"We definitely can have room for both," MacPhail said of Izturis and Harris. "Harris can play third. He can play other positions, but he pretty much has to make the team out of spring training. He'll be in a competition with [Robert] Andino and others. We always wanted to bring Izzy back. We just wanted to get more offensively at short."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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