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MacPhail: Door on signing free agents is not closed

The Baltimore Sun

The Orioles are still pursuing trades involving several of their best players, but they'll soon turn their attention toward free agency if acceptable offers don't come this month.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail confirmed that he is still in trade talks with various clubs but that the intensity has not picked up significantly in the past few weeks.

"There's no change in status," MacPhail said. "I talk to different clubs about different things, but I wouldn't characterize anything as 'heating up' these days."

Throughout the offseason, the Orioles have made it known that most of their players are available for the right deal, including ace left-hander Erik Bedard and All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts.

The Chicago Cubs have been the most aggressive regarding Roberts and the Seattle Mariners the most aggressive with Bedard. Foxsports.com reported yesterday and the Seattle Times was to report in today's editions that discussions with the Mariners involving Bedard might have intensified.

However, those reports could be driven more by the Orioles' interest in compiling best final offers now than the club actually closing in on a deal.

MacPhail said the Orioles have yet to receive an acceptable offer for their upper-echelon players, and if they don't soon, MacPhail will concentrate on finding immediate help for 2008 via free agency. Right now, the club has no set center fielder, closer or shortstop. MacPhail would like to fill those spots long-term with young players through trades, but he also doesn't want to pass on short-term possibilities only to see the trade discussions crumble.

"We have some needs we have to fill and there are still options available to fill them. But we don't want some of those options to evaporate and they will in the next couple of weeks if we don't address them," MacPhail said. "There will come a time where we will have to look to other options than trades to fill our needs."

When asked for a timetable, he said: "I would say certainly by the last week of January."

The Mariners seem like a logical fit for Bedard, since Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi is still trying to upgrade his starting rotation and the club's top prospect is 22-year-old center fielder Adam Jones, who would immediately start for the Orioles.

The Mariners also have a solid corps of young pitchers, including right-handers Brandon Morrow, 23, and Chris Tillman, 19, as well as highly touted catcher-infielder Jeff Clement.

Huff hurting -- Designated hitter Aubrey Huff felt discomfort while working out this offseason, but the team doesn't consider the problem serious. MacPhail described the injury as a "strained groin" and said he doesn't believe, at this point, it will require surgery or hamper Huff from being ready for spring training.

Non-roster invitees -- The Orioles have invited 11 nonroster players to spring training: pitchers Craig Anderson, Ryan Bukvich, Ryan Keefer and Roberto Novoa; catchers Ben Davis, Matt Wieters and Omir Santos; infielders Mike Costanzo, Oscar Salazar and Eider Torres, and outfielder Luis Terrero.

JumboTron coming down -- The dismantling of the video screen and scoreboard at Oriole Park is scheduled to begin this morning with the use of a crane. Windy conditions might force a postponement. The Maryland Stadium Authority voted in November to buy a $5.2 million video and scoreboard display to replace the failing Sony JumboTron.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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