4 more years

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - For much of the past two years, Brian Roberts' future seemed to be somewhere besides Baltimore. But now the second baseman is about to be locked up as an Oriole for five years.

According to team sources, the Orioles are finalizing a four-year, $40 million contract extension with Roberts, a homegrown talent who has developed into a two-time All-Star, one of the game's best leadoff men and one of the city's most beloved athletes. Roberts will make $8 million in 2009, and the four-year extension would start in 2010, meaning he would be under contractual control of the Orioles through 2013.

The terms of the deal have been agreed to, but contract language and other details still need to be worked out before the agreement, which is expected to include at least a minor no-trade clause, is finalized, sources said. Roberts, 31, will also need to pass a physical, which is scheduled for this morning before the Orioles' first full-team workout.

A news conference announcing the deal is expected to follow either tomorrow or Saturday, depending how long it takes to work out certain contract language and get the results of the physical.

"We continue to make progress," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said, declining to elaborate.

Roberts, who was not at Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday, deferred commenting until today. His agent, Mark Pieper, has not returned calls seeking comment.

In recent days, MacPhail, normally tight-lipped about contract negotiations, acknowledged he had narrowed the gap with Pieper and felt far more optimistic about the talks than he had in the past. The Orioles had originally offered Roberts a three-year deal worth $30 million, though the second baseman wanted a four-year pact for about $12 million or $13 million per season. The Orioles compromised on years, and Roberts did the same on money.

The imminent signing of Roberts comes about a month after the Orioles signed right fielder Nick Markakis to a six-year, $66.1 million deal. The decision to sign Markakis, one of the game's best young players, was largely viewed as a no-brainer. However, Roberts' long-term status has been - and will continue to be - widely debated by the fan base.

However, MacPhail, whose organization does not have another second baseman close to being major league ready, believed it was important to keep Roberts as a part of the team's nucleus. It didn't hurt that the second baseman is immensely popular with owner Peter Angelos and the fans.

He also is an extremely popular figure in the clubhouse, as evidenced by the team's reaction yesterday when word started circulating that an extension for Roberts was close.

"I feel real good about that," said Jeremy Guthrie, the team's No. 1 starter. "It's good for the Orioles. Brian is one of the most important parts of our team ... offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. To have him for however as many more years, it's vital to this organization. Both sides should be very, very happy."

Center fielder Adam Jones agreed, saying: "It's a stepping stone in the right direction. You lock up Markakis and then you lock up him, those are your two faces of the franchise and your two key players. I don't know the other moves that they're going to make, but I think it's a good thing for the franchise."

Roberts, whom the Orioles selected 50th overall in the 1999 draft with a compensation pick rewarded after free agent Roberto Alomar signed with the Cleveland Indians, has been the team's everyday second baseman since May 2003. He took over the job from an injured Jerry Hairston and never relinquished it during a tumultuous tenure with the club that has included countless trade rumors, a career-threatening injury and his steroid admission last year.

Roberts, a career .284 hitter who has stolen 36 or more bases three straight years, had a breakout season in 2005, but it came to a gruesome end in September, when he suffered a dislocated left elbow and a torn tendon and ligament in a collision at first base with the New York Yankees' Bubba Crosby.

He had extensive surgery 10 days later and was in the Orioles' lineup on Opening Day 2006. After that season, the Orioles nearly traded Roberts and pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Atlanta Braves for second baseman Marcus Giles and first baseman Adam LaRoche, but Angelos, who has long admired the second baseman's play on the field and his charitable considerations off it, vetoed the deal.

A year later, Roberts was again the subject of trade talks, this time with the Chicago Cubs. Reports that the deal was close persisted for months, but MacPhail never found the return he was seeking.

Also that offseason, Roberts' name was included in the Mitchell Report on steroid use in baseball. Roberts (5 feet 9 and 175 pounds) was cited in the report after former teammate Larry Bigbie told investigators Roberts admitted to him he "injected himself once or twice with steroids."

Four days after the report's release, Roberts, saying he is human and has made mistakes, acknowledged he took "one shot of steroids" in 2003, and he apologized to the organization and its fans. He received little backlash from Orioles supporters.

Faceoff: Is the Roberts deal a good one for the Orioles? PG 2

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