The Orioles could have parted ways with right fielder Jay Gibbons yesterday, but they signed him to a one-year, $2.6 million contract, highlighting a flurry of activity that answered some big questions about their 2005 roster.
After weeks of inactivity, the Orioles also signed left-handed reliever Steve Kline to a two-year, $5.5 million deal and reacquired backup infielder Chris Gomez from the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Orioles were also close to a one-year, $975,000 deal with center fielder Luis Matos and a one-year deal with left-handed pitcher Bruce Chen. Like Gibbons, those two could have been cut loose at last night's deadline for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players, but the Orioles decided to keep them, along with Jerry Hairston, Jorge Julio, Rodrigo Lopez, John Parrish and B.J. Ryan.
"It's been a pretty good Monday," Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan said.
Gibbons, 27, was named the team's most valuable player in 2003, but injuries to his back and hip limited him to 97 games last season, and he hit .246 with 10 home runs.
The Orioles didn't want to give Gibbons a raise from the $2.6 million he earned last season, but his salary almost definitely would have gone up through arbitration. So they were willing to cut ties yesterday, the way they did last year with starting pitcher Jason Johnson, who signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers.
But Gibbons ultimately agreed to come back without a raise. The Orioles had trainer Richie Bancells check on Gibbons last week in Tempe, Ariz., and the reports were positive.
For now, the Orioles have Gibbons penciled in as their right fielder, with Rafael Palmeiro as their designated hitter, but they are still looking at free-agent first baseman Carlos Delgado and free-agent right fielder Magglio Ordonez.
A club official said he doesn't expect Delgado or Ordonez to sign anywhere before late January, but the Gibbons signing gives the Orioles flexibility because he can also play first base.
Matos, 26, was held to 89 games last year because of a stress fracture in his right shin. He had surgery on Aug. 11 and missed the rest of the season. Bancells also checked on him last week in Puerto Rico and sent positive reports.
The Orioles tried getting Matos to come back at last year's salary of $975,000, but they were prepared to tender him a contract - setting the stage for arbitration - even if the sides couldn't come to an agreement.
Matos will get another shot to earn the Orioles' starting center field job next season, as will Hairston, who has conceded the starting second base job to Brian Roberts.
Hairston, 28, told The Sun last week he has fully recovered from surgery on his left ankle. Some industry insiders predicted the Orioles would non-tender Hairston, who made $1.65 million last year, but they still consider him a valuable commodity and so are willing to go to arbitration.
Yesterday's other non-tender decisions were not as complex. The Orioles have been preparing potential arbitration cases for Lopez (who made $365,000 last year), Parrish ($320,000), Julio ($385,000) and Ryan ($1.3 million).
The Orioles' bullpen got a big boost yesterday with the addition of Kline, 32, who went 2-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 67 games for the St. Louis Cardinals last season.
Now, the Orioles could use Ryan as their closer, with Kline and the right-handed Julio as their primary setup men.
"We're not sure about that right now," Flanagan said. "This helps shore up our left-handed relief. We like [Kline] as a later-in-the-game guy."
The Kline signing also positioned the Orioles to include a left-handed reliever in a trade. They had declined the option for left-hander Buddy Groom, but they still have Ryan and Parrish, who have both drawn interest in trade discussions.
Finally, there's the Gomez deal. The Orioles got him back from the Phillies for $12,500 in cash - the same amount the Phillies paid to take him from the Orioles in last week's Rule 5 draft.
The Phillies had grabbed Gomez as insurance in case infielder Placido Polanco left via free agency, but Polanco made the surprise move Sunday of accepting Philadelphia's arbitration offer. When Polanco made that decision, the Phillies agreed to send Gomez back to the Orioles, who expect him to make their Opening Day roster as their utility infielder.
He hit .282 in 109 games last season for the Toronto Blue Jays.