A pre-Christmas lunch for Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo consisted of breaking bread and cracking jokes. And it went a long way toward satisfying the team's hunger for a power-hitting outfielder and first baseman.
Taking a suggestion from team executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette, Perlozzo met with free agent Aubrey Huff at a Tampa, Fla., restaurant. The food was good, the conversation better.
"We got to know each other. He could see what I'm about and I could see what he's all about," Perlozzo said.
"It was pretty casual. We talked about the kinds of things he was looking for, as far as his future, and I gave him a vision of what direction I felt we were going in. We talked baseball a little bit. We had a good time."
It must have gone well, considering that Huff and the Orioles reached agreement over the weekend on a three-year contract worth $20 million. The deal becomes official once Huff passes his physical, which is expected to take place today before he's introduced to the media at the B&O; warehouse.
Perhaps reporters will find Huff as engaging as did Perlozzo, who discovered a humorous side to the man that isn't always apparent to outsiders. They traded barbs, shared a few laughs, and Perlozzo walked away confident.
"He got me good a couple times," Perlozzo said. "I said, 'You're not getting me anymore.' I told him, 'I'll buy lunch, but the next time you get a hit off us if you don't sign with us, and we plunk you, you just look in the dugout and I'll be smiling at you.' "
A month from now, they'll sit on the same bench at spring training.
Huff will become the ninth free agent signed by the Orioles, and a presence in the middle of the lineup that they've sought since the free-agent market became open for business. Perlozzo already has given consideration to where he'll bat Huff, who's hit 20 or more homers in five straight seasons.
The exact slotting could change, depending on a number of factors, but Perlozzo likes the idea of hitting Huff behind shortstop Miguel Tejada.
"I'd hate to lock anybody into anything right at this point. But to me, he'd be great hitting behind Miggy, wherever he plays, and give Miggy a little protection. And then we'd have to see what position, exactly, he'd be in at that spot," Perlozzo said.
"I think we have that kind of lineup where two through six could interchange depending on who's hot and who's not, and who's pitching."
With the Orioles expected to face Minnesota Twins left-hander Johan Santana on Opening Day, Huff could start in left field while Kevin Millar, a right-handed hitter, plays first base. Huff bats from the left side, but he has a .276 career average against lefties.
"I see him as an everyday guy myself," Perlozzo said. "The good thing about him is he hits well [against righties and lefties]. I know from watching him on the other side, even when I brought in a lefty to face him, I was still uncomfortable. I think that's a compliment to him."
Though Jay Gibbons also is a left-handed-hitting first baseman and corner outfielder, Perlozzo said there's room for both of them on the 25-man roster. Gibbons was limited to 90 games last year because of injuries, and he'll likely get most of his at-bats as the regular designated hitter in an attempt to keep him healthy.
"Gibby can DH, play a little outfield or maybe some first base. It would give us a chance to move some people around and keep us potent," Perlozzo said.
"I could see Gibby hitting fifth if he's hot, and if Aubrey was struggling, he could be hitting seventh. Otherwise, you could have a guy like Jay Gibbons hitting seventh, depending on who's pitching. This gives us a legitimate power threat throughout the lineup."
NOTES -- Perlozzo also dined recently with reliever Todd Williams, who is expected to re-sign with the Orioles. "We kind of just wanted to make sure he was serious about being in shape and coming in and pitching well, and that's what I saw from him," Perlozzo said. ... The Orioles have talked to several teams, including the Colorado Rockies, about pitcher Rodrigo Lopez, club sources said. At this point, however, no team is offering more than mid-level prospects for the right-hander, and the Orioles want more than that.
Projected 2007 lineup
1. Brian Roberts, 2B
2. Melvin Mora, 3B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Miguel Tejada, SS
5. Aubrey Huff, LF
6. Ramon Hernandez, C
7. Jay Gibbons, DH
8. Kevin Millar, 1B
9. Corey Patterson, CF