Something brewing with Roberts?

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -Brian Roberts arrived at Orioles training camp yesterday to find that the questions about his future have not changed since he reported here a year ago.

Inquiring minds want to know whether he wants to stay in Baltimore, what it will take to sign him to a multiyear contract extension, maybe even how he feels about global warming, er, planetary climate change. Roberts has become adept at dancing around the thorny issues, but he didn't even bother to sidestep them this time. He just told everyone to sit tight for a couple of more days.

To be more specific, he said he didn't want to say anything about his contract situation until tomorrow, which should tell you something about the nature of the negotiations between Andy MacPhail and agent Mark Pieper, if not the eventual outcome. Roberts was quoted recently as saying he wants to get the situation resolved "one way or the other" sooner rather than later, which makes it fair to interpret his deferral of comment as a de facto timetable for a decision. Or not.

It could just mean Roberts is in camp early and isn't ready to start the daily give-and-take with the media until tomorrow's first full-squad workout, but there's a feeling around the team the thing is about to pop.

MacPhail doesn't say much about contract negotiations either but volunteered yesterday that he and Pieper were talking and "narrowing the gap," which doesn't necessarily mean the Orioles will be putting a contract in front of Roberts today or tomorrow but represents a step forward in the characterization of the situation. MacPhail actually sounds optimistic when he says "we're getting closer." It really seems as if it could happen any minute.

There is no deadline looming. Roberts doesn't become eligible for free agency until November, and even his stated desire to shut down any contract talk during the regular season leaves open the possibility of six more weeks of negotiation, but there are plenty of good reasons it is in the best interests of all concerned to get something done as soon as possible - if it's going to get done at all.

The Orioles really don't have a long-term alternative at second base, and they really aren't in a position - from a fan-interest standpoint - to jettison one of their most popular and community-involved players. They also don't appear to be positioned very well to trade Roberts if the contract talks break down, though that could change between now and the midseason trading period.

Roberts also seems more open to staying than he has been in the past, but he has never been one to reveal a whole lot, so we're really left to speculate about the reasons he might be more inclined to sign.

It could be he's actually getting on board with the direction the organization is going, which would explain why he might have warmed back up to the club the past couple of months. The Orioles seemed stuck in a holding pattern early in the offseason, before MacPhail delivered a rapid-fire series of moves that broadened the team's talent base and turned over a large chunk of the 40-man roster. The Orioles also signed outfielder Nick Markakis to a six-year, $66.1 million contract that didn't include a hometown discount.

There's also the small matter of a global recession that dwarfs the petty contract differences between a rich franchise and an already-wealthy player. Roberts is the kind of guy who would get that sort of thing.

On a more personal level, Roberts got married during the winter and is settling down. His charitable foundation is in Maryland. He has spent his entire career with the Orioles. He's comfortable here, and the main reasons he might want to leave - one financial and the other related to the team's ability to compete - probably don't seem as imperative as they might have a year ago.

The Orioles - according to Baltimore Sun reporting - were holding close to a three-year offer worth $30 million until the past few weeks. Though no definite number came out of the Roberts camp, the word on the street was he was looking for closer to $40 million over that term and would look more kindly on a four-year offer. No one would be surprised if the final deal ends up being four years for about $44 million, which would be about the same average annual salary the Orioles gave Markakis.

Maybe we'll find out in the next day or two.

Sure seems like something is going on.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights from 6 to 7 from spring training on WBAL (1090 AM).

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