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Roberts, O's agree on deal

The Baltimore Sun

JUPITER, FLA. -- The Orioles nearly traded Brian Roberts in December, agreeing to the components of a deal that would have sent the popular second baseman and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles. However, Orioles owner Peter Angelos nixed the trade, and, now, Roberts' future with the club has become more secure.

After about seven weeks of discussions, the Orioles have agreed in principle to a two-year contract extension with Roberts that, barring a trade, will keep him in Baltimore through the 2009 season. The deal will total $14.3 million and include a limited no-trade clause.

"I said all along that it wasn't like I was losing sleep over it, but I am happy," said Roberts, 29. "I am excited that I will be here for the next three years. I am very grateful and I feel blessed that the organization would do this. I am excited with the group of guys that we have signed for the next three years. Hopefully, we can do something good for this city and this organization."

With neither side wanting the negotiations to stretch out close to the start of the regular season, talks accelerated March 5, when Roberts' agent, Mark Pieper, came to Fort Lauderdale Stadium to meet with executive vice president Mike Flanagan and vice president Jim Duquette. Most of the details were then agreed upon, but it took until yesterday for all of the contract to be worked out.

Orioles officials wouldn't comment on the deal, because there was one detail to work out last night. They are planning to officially announce the signing today.

"It never bothered me one bit," Roberts said of the time it took to complete the deal. "It's a business. It's a game when you are on the field, and it's a business when you are off the field. If I never got a deal done, I wouldn't have resented the organization or anybody involved. It's just the way it goes. Anytime they are willing to commit that kind of money to you, they wouldn't do that if they didn't think you weren't doing some good things."

Roberts avoided arbitration by agreeing last month to a one-year deal worth $4.2 million, and that salary is locked in for the coming season. Because he was already under Orioles contractual control until after the 2008 season, the two-year extension essentially means that the Orioles are buying out one of his free-agent years.

He becomes the third veteran Oriole - Melvin Mora and Jay Gibbons were the other two - to get a multiyear extension in a little more than a year's span and the latest part of the organization's nucleus with a contract that will be up after the 2009 season. That group includes All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada, catcher Ramon Hernandez, first baseman-outfielder Aubrey Huff, starting pitcher Erik Bedard and relievers Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Danys Baez.

Roberts said all the expiring contracts that season and not knowing what the Orioles will look like in 2010 factored into his apprehension over signing a longer-term deal. However, in preliminary talks about a longer extension, the two sides were also significantly apart on the terms.

"The [two-year] was just kind of the deal we worked on. We really never got into much else, to tell you the truth," he said. "My agent and I were talking even before we ever had the discussions [with the Orioles], and it was probably our No. 1 choice to do three years, just to leave yourself that option after the three years if the organization isn't where you feel like it should be. I don't have any plans to do anything else, but at this point, this was the best option for both sides."

Roberts, the Orioles' switch-hitting leadoff man, hit .286 with 10 home runs, 55 RBIs, 85 runs and 36 steals in 138 games in 2006, a year that started with some doubts that he would be a productive major leaguer again. Late in the 2005 season, Roberts suffered severe damage to his left arm in a gruesome collision with New York Yankees outfielder Bubba Crosby while covering first base.

He had ligament-transplant surgery, and his status for 2006 was unknown until a couple of weeks before Opening Day. Roberts acknowledged that the effects of the injury left him significantly weaker than he was during his breakthrough 2005, when he hit .314 with 18 home runs, 73 RBIs and 27 steals and was the American League All-Star starter at second base.

He reported to camp this year saying he is as strong as ever. He went 1-for-3 yesterday in the Orioles' 4-1 loss to the Florida Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium and is 7-for-23 this spring.

Roberts, a sandwich pick for the Orioles in the 1999 first-year player draft, has become one of the faces of the franchise because of his scrappy play on the field and his charitable contributions off it. Roberts, who had surgery to repair a hole in his heart when he was a child, is a frequent visitor to hospitalized children during the season, and he said one of the reasons he wants to stay an Oriole is the relationships he has built off the field.

"You can never do what I've been fortunate to do in Baltimore if you are moving all the time and you are trying to get settled in a city," Roberts said. "The people there are great. They are supportive in helping causes that they feel are good causes."

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