O's say they're still in Teixeira running

The Baltimore Sun

LAS VEGAS - Orioles officials left the Bellagio Hotel yesterday afternoon still believing they have a shot at signing prized free agent Mark Teixeira, though all signs continue to point to their having to overcome long odds.

As the winter meetings concluded, the Orioles, one of four teams believed to be bidding on Teixeira, had a seven-year offer on the table worth between $140 million and $150 million, according to an industry source. The club had not dramatically sweetened the offer and had no immediate plans to do so, according to the source. However, Orioles president Andy MacPhail told reporters he believed the club is still in the running to land the slugger, who grew up in Severna Park and played at Mount St. Joseph.

"We have no reason to believe" the Orioles aren't in it, MacPhail said. "I won't get into the he-said, she-said. The best way to say it is that until we're told otherwise, we believe we are part of the process. ... We've never been dogmatic about saying this is it and this is all it would be. I'm sure if there is interest on the other side, there will be more dialogue. If they choose to go another way, that's their choice."

The general feeling here was that the Boston Red Sox are the clear front-runners, though their offer is unknown. It is believed the Washington Nationals have extended the biggest bid, an eight-year deal worth $160 million, though there has been plenty of speculation that their offer is even larger.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles Angels might be willing to offer at least a seven-year pact of about $160 million. Scott Boras, Teixeira's agent, wouldn't comment yesterday.

At this point, barring the Orioles increasing their offer, it appears the only way the team will land Teixeira is if he decides playing close to where he grew up is more important than taking the highest bid or playing for a winner.

"You don't really know. ... You really don't have all the information," MacPhail said. "They can speculate on whatever, based on what they hear. We don't know exactly where the process stands."

Whether Teixeira signs with the Orioles - and the team has already discussed contingency plans if he doesn't (Eric Hinske via free agency and the Texas Rangers' Hank Blalock via trade) - MacPhail did accomplish a few of his goals at the meetings.

He traded catcher Ramon Hernandez and about $2 million to the Cincinnati Reds for outfielder-utility man Ryan Freel and two prospects. The move saved about $2 million, created an opening for top prospect Matt Wieters behind the plate and added a right-handed outfielder to platoon with Luke Scott in left field.

The Orioles also agreed to a two-year, $6 million contract with slick-fielding shortstop Cesar Izturis, who must pass a physical next week for the deal to be finalized. Izturis would provide stability at a position filled by six players last season, all with poor results.

"We're pleased with the trade or we wouldn't have made it," MacPhail said. "We're happy with where we are at shortstop."

MacPhail has plenty of work to do, starting with deciding the future of two-time All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts as an Oriole. MacPhail met with Roberts' agent, Mark Pieper, three times during the week and even made a contract-extension proposal.

Pieper declined to comment on the Roberts negotiations. If the sides can't reach a deal and they've made little progress, the Orioles could elect to trade him. Roberts has said several times an agreement would have to be reached by spring training or he'll commit to free agency after the 2009 season.

MacPhail's biggest challenge is finding starting pitching. Only Jeremy Guthrie is certain for next season's rotation. MacPhail spoke with agents for Braden Looper and Paul Byrd, though the Orioles don't appear to be particularly close to signing either.

The Orioles do appear to be one of the front-runners to sign Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami. The Orioles are also in on pitcher Koji Uehara, who like Roberts, is represented by Pieper.

Without a catcher on the 40-man roster, MacPhail is also trying to acquire a veteran who would help bridge the gap before Wieters is ready to take over. His focus is centered on veteran Matt Treanor, just released by the Florida Marlins. The Orioles have also contacted agents for Paul Bako, Henry Blanco and Gregg Zaun. It's possible they'll sign two catchers.

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