FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Third baseman Melvin Mora says he loves the Orioles, loves being part of the team and the community, loves the daily interaction with players and fans. He has no desire to leave, and the Orioles aren't pushing him out the door.
So why is there a chance he won't return in 2007? Mora would prefer to end negotiations on a new contract once the season begins, though he stopped short of issuing that threat yesterday. Former closer B.J. Ryan was more adamant last year and eventually left as a free agent, signing a five-year, $47 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I've been doing so many things for the Orioles. I'd like to stay here," said Mora, 34, who reported to camp yesterday with the other position players. "But this is my final year [on the contract]. The people know how much I love this team. That's the only thing I can say."
The Orioles are continuing to hold discussions with the third baseman's agent, Lon Babby, that began in early January.
"They're talking. They've made some pretty good progress, but there's nothing finalized yet," Mora said. "We'll just wait. I can't say anything yet. I don't know where they are. My agent deals with that. I just deal with baseball."
Babby referred to the two sides as being in "a good-faith process to try to reach an agreement."
"I can't predict at this point whether the process will result in an agreement," he said.
The Orioles recently made a counteroffer and were waiting to hear from Babby. The sides appear to be far apart on what would likely be a three-year deal.
"We've been negotiating," said Jim Duquette, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations. "We're having an ongoing dialogue and we hope to sign him. He wants to be here and we want him to stay."
As for the possibility that Mora won't allow negotiations to run past Opening Day, Duquette said, "We got the sense that he'd like to do something before the season starts. That's not unusual."
Competition on hold
Luis Matos is ready to compete for the center-field job. It'll just have to wait.
Matos will represent Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, so he'll be leaving camp on March 2. Corey Patterson isn't going anywhere, allowing manager Sam Perlozzo and the coaching staff to get a longer look at him.
"If I need to prove something," Matos said, "I'll have to prove it after I get back."
Matos, who said he couldn't pass up the chance to represent his country in the WBC, had no reaction to the trade that brought Patterson to the Orioles for two minor leaguers. "I'm going to fight for the position," he said. "That's what I did last year, and that's what I'll do this year."
Perlozzo gathered his players for a pre-workout speech, and the reviews were pretty good.
"It was fun," Perlozzo said. "I think the guys responded."
Part of Perlozzo's message was to "change the face of the organization a little." A happy face would be a nice switch.
"We want good character people with talent," he said. "And we fully intend to go to the World Series. And if you don't feel that way, you shouldn't be here."
Once thought to have a shot at making the team, reliever Aaron Rakers has a slap lesion tear in the labrum of his right shoulder - an injury that was revealed after he took a magnetic resonance imaging test.
Rakers, who wasn't available to comment, will seek a second opinion. If he chooses to have surgery, he'll miss the entire 2006 season.
One option for Rakers is to rest the shoulder before attempting to strengthen the muscular area around the tear. He'd eventually go on a throwing program, but the tear wouldn't heal.
Around the horn
Two position players, Eddy Garabito and Napoleon Calzado, still haven't reported to camp because of visa issues. And this isn't the first time they've had trouble leaving the Dominican Republic. Reliever Eddy Rodriguez also is stuck in the Dominican, but he's expected to report on Saturday, according to a team official. ... Brian Roberts hit off a tee yesterday.
Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.