On Roberts, hope but no progress

The Baltimore Sun

As spring training approaches, the Orioles and Brian Roberts have moved no closer to a contract extension, but the second baseman's agent believes there is still a chance.

"We certainly haven't made any progress recently, but neither side has closed the door," said Roberts' agent, Mark Pieper.

Although neither Pieper nor the club will comment on specifics, an industry source said the Orioles have offered a multiyear deal worth about $10 million per season but that the sides are still significantly apart in terms of both years and money.

Roberts, 31, has been with the Orioles his entire career, but he can become a free agent at the end of 2009. He has said repeatedly he does not want negotiations to be an in-season distraction, meaning the next few weeks could be monumental for Roberts, who also is getting married this month.

Pieper suggested that negotiations would probably be terminated "somewhere in the middle" between the start of spring training in mid-February and Opening Day on April 6 if an agreement can't be reached.

Orioles president Andy MacPhail would not address the Roberts situation, except to say, "We don't find it advantageous to discuss our negotiations in the media."

If the Orioles cannot re-sign Roberts, there is an increasing likelihood they would deal the speedy leadoff hitter. Despite rumors to the contrary, MacPhail said he has not had any trade talks involving Roberts for at least a month.

"I don't have any [trade] discussions going on," MacPhail said. "Like everybody else, I am focused on the 100 or some players available in free agency. I'll see what needs I can fill there without giving up something from my own organization."

MacPhail also would not discuss the progress of an extension with right fielder Nick Markakis, who is in his first year of arbitration. Both sides would like to get a multiyear deal secured this year. An industry source confirmed that the Orioles offered Markakis a six-year, $60 million deal this winter and, at the time, the sides were believed to be about $10 million apart.

Because Markakis cannot become a free agent until after the 2011 season, there might be a little less urgency to extend his contract. However, it's possible that if an extension isn't reached by Jan. 19, when arbitration figures are exchanged, the sides will concentrate primarily on a one-year deal to avoid an arbitration hearing.

Markakis' agent, Jamie Murphy, would not comment on the negotiations, which were tabled in December when Murphy and Markakis chose to see how the winter market developed.

Since then, Boston Red Sox second baseman and reigning American League Most Valuable Player Dustin Pedroia, who has one year less of service time than Markakis, agreed to a six-year, $40.5 million extension. And free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira received an eight-year, $180 million deal from the New York Yankees as well as a seven-year, $140 million offer from the Orioles.

After failing to sign Teixeira, the Orioles are still in the market for a first baseman, specifically a right-handed hitter or switch-hitter, and potential targets include Richie Sexson, Ty Wigginton and Rocco Baldelli.

At this time, the club does not appear interested in re-signing veteran Kevin Millar and is not expected to be an aggressive suitor for Shelley Duncan, who was recently designated for assignment by the Yankees.

MacPhail also is hoping to soon find a starting catcher to bridge the gap to prospect Matt Wieters and for now seems to have settled on free agents Gregg Zaun, a former Oriole, and Ivan Rodriguez.

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