In suspense

The Baltimore Sun

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Orioles might not have two extra weeks to decide the fate of veteran outfielder Jay Gibbons, after all.

The commissioner's office and the players union are negotiating changes to Major League Baseball's drug policy in the wake of the Mitchell Report, and the result could be the rescinding of Gibbons' 15-day suspension for violating the substance-abuse prevention program.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, who released a study in December on steroid use in baseball, recommended granting amnesty to all the players mentioned in the report. Gibbons, who admitted to using human growth hormone, was one of 86 players cited.

"I know absolutely nothing," Gibbons said after the Orioles' 8-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday at Roger Dean Stadium. "I know I'm suspended 15 days to start the season."

The possibility of his and Kansas City Royals outfielder Jose Guillen's suspension being lifted was first reported by the Associated Press. Orioles manager Dave Trembley and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail acknowledged that the club is aware of the possibility. Officials from MLB and the players union did not return calls seeking comment.

"I know that they are talking to the players association, but I do not know for certain what the status is," MacPhail said. "We've called and asked obviously. It would be preferable to know, but unfortunately, having some experience in that area, it's not unexpected. It probably wasn't until like 10 days ago that I learned it was a possibility."

Trembley said he hopes the situation is resolved soon because of its ramifications on his evolving Opening Day roster. The Orioles yesterday informed catcher Chris Heintz, outfielder Chris Roberson and infielders Eider Torres and Oscar Salazar that they won't make the club, leaving 15 position players in camp battling for 13 spots.

The Orioles' starting lineup is essentially set, aside from the shortstop competition between Luis Hernandez and Brandon Fahey, though both probably will make the roster, with the loser taking the utility spot. With outfielder Jay Payton, catcher Guillermo Quiroz and Hernandez or Fahey having secured bench roles, one available spot is left for Gibbons, utility man Scott Moore or outfielder Tike Redman.

"That's a very good assumption," said Trembley, whose club still could pick up a couple of players off the waiver wire, further jumbling the Opening Day roster. "I think that will be clarified after the game [today]."

Moore, a 24-year-old acquired last August in the deal that sent pitcher Steve Trachsel to the Chicago Cubs, has had a solid spring, hitting .394 with one homer and five RBIs. He would offer Trembley the most versatility with his ability to play three infield positions and the outfield. Redman, who has hit .289 this spring and batted .318 with the Orioles in 40 games last year, would give Trembley speed off the bench.

Meanwhile, Gibbons, who is viewed by the club as a designated hitter and emergency outfielder, has struggled as a reserve, going 4-for-39 over his career as a pinch hitter.

He also has had a poor spring, hitting .200 with no homers and four RBIs. But the Orioles have few options with the 31-year-old outfielder. He still has two years and $11.9 million left on his contract and is virtually immovable in a trade.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos has long been a supporter of Gibbons, so it's probably unlikely that he would release Gibbons and absorb the rest of his contract. As a player with five or more years of service time, Gibbons would have to approve a minor league assignment, and that's highly unlikely.

"There's always things to consider, but we're trying to do what's right," Trembley said.

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