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Roberts deal put on hold

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles and Chicago Cubs have not had any recent discussions about All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts, pushing the potential deal toward Opening Day or beyond.

Despite engaging in trade talks for more than three months, the teams still have not agreed to a package that both find suitable. According to two baseball sources, the Cubs have offered infielder Ronny Cedeno, pitching prospects Sean Gallagher and Donald Veal, and one other player for Roberts, but the Orioles are holding out for a better offer.

The talks have stalled while scouts from the teams evaluate players on each other's roster. The Cubs, who are looking for a leadoff hitter to set up the middle of their lineup, have had at least one scout at every game Roberts has played this spring. Dave Engle, one of the Orioles' top scouts, went to Mesa, Ariz., to observe several of the Cubs' prospects.

"Our scouts are out and about doing their due diligence and watching the teams that they should be watching," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.

Asked whether he feels compelled to make a decision on the status of Roberts by a certain date, MacPhail said, "I'm not a big one on drop-dead dates."

The Orioles clearly covet Gallagher, a 22-year-old right-handed starter who is ranked as the Cubs' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America. In parts of four minor league seasons, Gallagher is 36-15 with a 2.75 ERA in 84 games. He struggled in eight relief appearances with the Cubs last year, allowing 14 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings.

Cedeno, a 25-year-old who primarily plays shortstop but can also play second and third base, spent much of last season at Triple-A, hitting .359 with 10 home runs and 37 RBIs. He was the Cubs' starting shortstop in 2006 but was unseated last season and hit just .203 in 74 at-bats for them.

Veal, a 23-year-old left-hander, had a promising 2006 season, going 5-3 with a 2.81 ERA in 14 starts for low-Single-A Peoria and then 6-2 with a 1.67 ERA in 14 starts in high-A Daytona. However, he struggled last year, going 8-10 with a 4.97 ERA at Double-A Tennessee.

The sticking point of the deal appears to be the inclusion of a fourth - or possibly a fifth - player in the deal. The Orioles have inquired about several of the Cubs' prospects, including reliever Jose Ceda and outfielders Felix Pie and Tyler Colvin.

According to league sources, the two teams have also discussed a scenario in which outfielder Jay Payton would head to Chicago with Roberts and veteran starter Jason Marquis would be added to the package coming to Baltimore. That would likely include significant money changing hands because Marquis still has two years and approximately $16 million left on his contract, while Payton has just one year at $5 million.

Roberts has looked sharp for Cubs scouts this spring. He went 2-for-3 yesterday with an RBI and a walk in the Orioles' 12-2 win over the Boston Red Sox. That raised his Grapefruit League batting average to .357.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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