Decision on Lopez soon

The Baltimore Sun

Rodrigo Lopez has been the Orioles' Opening Day starter three of the past five seasons, but it is becoming more and more unlikely that he'll be on the team's roster when spring training begins.

The Orioles, whose rotation is set, have been listening to inquiries about the 31-year-old pitcher throughout the offseason, but trade talks have become more serious this week according to a club source, and it appears that a decision will be made on Lopez's future soon, perhaps as early as this weekend.

The Colorado Rockies have been the most aggressive suitor for Lopez, and the two teams have exchanged trade proposals, the source said. The San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers also have expressed interest in Lopez, as have the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners, though the interest of the latter two teams is tepid at best, according to one team source.

"He's on our club," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan, denying that a deal is imminent. "He has the right to go to arbitration at this point. Are we listening to trades? Yes. But as of right now, nothing is popping."

At this point, the Orioles would probably be satisfied with a mid-level prospect or two in return for Lopez, who has won 15 games twice in the big leagues but is coming off a season in which he suffered a major league-leading 18 losses, tied for the second-highest total in franchise history.

Lopez is eligible for salary arbitration and is due to make about $4 million in 2007, his last season before free agency. That would be considered a steep price for a pitcher who will likely be used as a long reliever barring an injury to one of the Orioles' starters.

There is also the issue of his accepting a bullpen role, which one club source said is unlikely. In past seasons, including last year's 9-18 campaign, Lopez has griped publicly about being skipped in the rotation or demoted to the bullpen.

In an interview with The Sun in November after the acquisition of right-hander Jaret Wright essentially made Lopez the odd man out in the rotation, the pitcher, who struggled to adapt to pitching coach Leo Mazzone's style and philosophy, said he wanted to remain a starter.

"Right now, if they asked me to be in the bullpen, I'd probably have to think about it for a while before I said yes. What I want is to be a starter," Lopez said. "I love Baltimore. I've made great friends on and off the field. ... I'd like to stay there, but if I go somewhere else, I'll keep my head up and leave Baltimore with a good feeling."

Flanagan said the Orioles "have no problem" keeping Lopez. "You have seen what pitching goes for," he said, citing the contracts given to several free-agent starters this offseason.

Notes -- Because of a rule in baseball's new collective bargaining agreement, the Orioles have decided not to hold "Camp Leo," a voluntary pre-spring training pitching camp headed by Mazzone. The rule stipulates that all minicamps have to be complete by Feb. 5. The Orioles hadn't planned on having the camp, a tradition Mazzone began while the Atlanta Braves pitching coach, until the following week. ... Looking to make the transition from the outfield to first base, Jay Gibbons has started taking groundballs under the guidance of bench coach Tom Trebelhorn in Arizona. The two plan to work three days a week until spring training begins. ... The Orioles will have to submit arbitration figures for their eligible players by Tuesday. Those eligible include Lopez, Erik Bedard, Brian Roberts and Corey Patterson.

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