This time, it's the Chicago Cubs, a frequent trade partner of the Orioles and a team that needs a left-handed hitter, who are aggressively pursuing Roberts, according to several team sources. As of last night, no deal appeared imminent and one club source said he believed the winter meetings would end this morning without the Orioles having dealt any of their players, including Roberts, shortstop Miguel Tejada or ace left-hander Erik Bedard.
Although no specifics have been revealed, one baseball source said the Cubs have put a "significant" offer on the table that would include a starting pitcher for Roberts, the Orioles' lone All-Star in 2007.
One player in the proposal is believed to be right-handed pitcher Sean Gallagher, who entered last season as the Cubs' fifth-ranked prospect, according to Baseball America. Gallagher, 21, pitched primarily in Double-A during the 2007 season, going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts. He made eight appearances in relief for the Cubs, allowing 14 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings.
It's likely the second player in the deal would be a position player, although the Cubs' top prospect, outfielder Felix Pie, is not being offered, according to a team source. One possibility is outfielder Matt Murton, 26, who hit .281 last year with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 235 at-bats.
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail wouldn't discuss specifics of the possible deal but reiterated he is willing to listen to offers for any of his players, including Roberts, generally viewed as the face of the club.
An admirer of Roberts' play on the field and his charitable work off it, owner Peter Angelos nixed a deal last year that would have sent Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Atlanta Braves for first baseman Adam LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles.
When asked about the possibility of moving Roberts, MacPhail said: "It's what we have said all along. We don't feel that we are in a position where we can rule anyone out. So if someone wants to talk, we listen. And we do what we feel is in the organization's best interests."
MacPhail said early last night that he felt significant trade conversations with different clubs had brought the Orioles closer to a couple of deals, but he didn't seem optimistic about announcing one before club officials depart Nashville after this morning's Rule 5 draft.
MacPhail and Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who are close friends, had lunch Tuesday and met for more than an hour. MacPhail would not characterize the nature of the talks. The Cubs are looking for a left-handed-hitting second baseman after failing to sign free agent Kaz Matsui, who reached a deal with the Houston Astros. The Cubs' biggest offensive threats are right-handed hitters - Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
The talks are serious enough that MacPhail has been in contact with Rocky Hall, agent for free-agent second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, to gauge Iguchi's interest in case Roberts is dealt.
Hall said if Roberts were traded, the Orioles would be in Iguchi's top three, which also includes the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Philadelphia Phillies, for whom Iguchi played part of last season, also would be in the mix, but because of league rules, he would not be able to play for the Phillies until May 15 unless Major League Baseball granted him a waiver, Hall said.
Iguchi, 33, is believed to be seeking at least a two-year deal with an option for a third worth between $4.5 million and $5 million per season.
Angelos has been reluctant in the past to trade Roberts, 30, who said last night that he had knowledge of the trade talks. In an interview with The Sun last week, Roberts sounded hesitant when asked whether he wanted to be part of a rebuilding process that MacPhail is trying to engineer.
"Do I want to be a part of a total tear-down and rebuild? I don't know if that was necessarily what I had in mind a couple of years ago," he said.
There is some sentiment among Orioles officials to try to unload other veterans first before trying to trade Roberts, who is still two years away from free agency. However, a team source said last night that the club hadn't found a suitable offer for Tejada, despite meeting with several teams yesterday, including the St. Louis Cardinals.firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com