Orioles go to bat in hunt for Lee

The Baltimore Sun

The competition for free-agent outfielder Carlos Lee appears to be down to three teams, including the Orioles, and the slugger could make a decision by the weekend.

The Orioles, Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies are viewed as the most serious bidders for Lee, the most coveted offensive player remaining on a market that's rapidly changing shape.

"That's my read," said Jim Duquette, vice president of baseball operations.

It's believed the Orioles would offer as much as a six-year contract worth about $80 million to $90 million for Lee, 30. Though it would be a substantial commitment, it's not in the same neighborhood as the eight-year, $136 million contract that Alfonso Soriano signed with the Chicago Cubs.

"I've had several discussions with the Orioles and they've been productive," said Lee's agent, Adam Katz.

Katz wouldn't discuss any specifics of the talks he has had with team executives.

"I've had good conversations, productive conversations, with the Orioles," he said.

An industry source said Lee is trying to get a read on what's available to him and could reach an agreement shortly after Thanksgiving.

Lee appeared in 161 games this season, the first 102 with the Milwaukee Brewers before they traded him to the Texas Rangers. He batted .300 with 37 homers, 116 RBIs, a .355 on-base percentage and .540 slugging percentage. Lee also was 19-for-21 in stolen base attempts.

By signing Lee, the Orioles would fill their need for a run-producer in the middle of the lineup and a right-handed-hitting outfielder. They could open next season with Corey Patterson in center and Nick Markakis in right. Patterson and Markakis bat from the left side.

The Orioles also continue to search for more bullpen help and want to add another starting pitcher despite signing Jaret Wright for the back end of the rotation. They could settle for a platoon at first base, with Kevin Millar's return a possibility.

Joe Borowski, 35, an Oriole in 1995 who saved 36 games for the Florida Marlins this season, has emerged as a possible right-handed setup man. The Orioles lost out to the Los Angeles Angels for Justin Speier, who signed a four-year, $18 million contract, and Danys Baez might be too expensive for them.

Industry speculation has Baez seeking closer money, perhaps $6 million to $7 million per season, which is a steep price for a pitcher who wouldn't unseat Chris Ray.

"We're still having conversations," Duquette said. "There's nothing close or imminent right now."

The Orioles addressed the left side by making Jamie Walker's signing official yesterday, after he passed a physical taken Monday. They also signed left-hander John Parrish, who was eligible for arbitration, to a one-year contract.

Walker received a three-year, $12 million deal that will pay him $3 million next season and $4.5 million in 2008 and 2009. He was 0-1 with a 2.81 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 2006, with eight walks and 37 strikeouts in 56 appearances.

"It's always a tough decision once you've been somewhere for so long, but the Tigers weren't willing to make a three-year commitment," Walker said. "We let them know we wanted a three-year deal and they never did offer it, and Baltimore came out very aggressive right from the get-go. I don't have any regrets. I'm 35 with three kids. I'm tired of moving around.

"I know the pitching coach [Leo Mazzone] there, I know the third base coach [Juan Samuel] and I know they've got some good arms there. I played with Melvin Mora. He's a good teammate. It's a good city, and I know the owner is committed to getting the team better. I'm looking forward to donning that O's hat and bringing back the winning ways to Baltimore."

Walker has tripled his salary, but he said the inflated income won't change his life.

"I'm a very simple person," said Walker, who ranked first among American League left-handed relievers with 1.50 walks per nine innings. "The money's great, obviously. I'll get to take care of more people now. I've got a mom that's 78. But I was really wanting a three-year deal.

"Baseball's been good to me. I play the game because I love it. The day that I stop loving the game or I'm going to embarrass myself, I'll walk away."

Walker has been labeled as a left-handed specialist - he totaled 48 innings in 56 games this season and has held left-handed hitters to a .229 average during his career - but he's willing to fill any role. "There are times during the course of the year I face one or two guys, but mainly, I like to start an inning and finish it. But I'll do whatever they want. If it's to face one lefty, that's fine. If it's to pitch the whole inning, that's fine, too. I'll do what it takes," he said.

"If they want me to run through a brick wall, I'll run through a brick wall or die trying. That's my attitude and I'm ready for it. If they need me to spot-start a game, I'll do it. I'm not afraid to do anything like that. Whatever Sam [Perlozzo] asks, I'll be ready to rock and roll, man."


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