JUPITER, Fla., March 30 -- The Baltimore Orioles ended years of anguish about Matt Riley -- considered one of the team's top pitching prospects for a frustrating eight years -- by trading him to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday for outfielder Ramon Nivar.
"I'm not surprised," Riley said. "I'd be lying if I said I don't read around, listen. I've heard things, so I knew something was going on with Texas. The main thing is they're going to give me a shot over there and that's all I can ask for. I thank the Orioles for everything. I've been with them going on my eighth year. I guess they felt like I didn't quite fit into their plans and feel like I had a better opportunity to shine somewhere else. I just have to move on."
The Orioles trade Matt Riley to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday for outfielder Ramon Nivar.
(Rick Bowmer - AP)
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In addition to the Riley trade, the team made several other key decisions Wednesday, although the Opening Day roster is not finalized. Manager Lee Mazzilli announced Melvin Mora as his No. 2 hitter, Luis Matos as the Opening Day center fielder and B.J. Ryan as the likely closer. The team has not made a decision on the last spot in the rotation, the bullpen or the backup middle infielder.
The trucks and buses began to roll out of Fort Lauderdale Stadium shortly after 10 a.m. on Wednesday, carrying the Orioles first to Jupiter -- where they ended their stay in Florida with a 5-5 tie against the St. Louis Cardinals -- and then to Oklahoma City, where they'll play two exhibition games before the team returns to Baltimore for Opening Day Monday against Oakland.
Riley, 25, wasn't going to begin the year in the rotation and was out of roster options, meaning the team would have had to expose him to waivers if it wanted to send him to the minors. Several scouts for other teams said that Riley, who had an 11.57 ERA this spring, would have been claimed off waivers.
Baltimore recently gathered several of its scouts on a conference call to discuss the left-hander, whose talent has never been in dispute. Concern focused instead on Riley's consistency and lack of maturity.
"With what we had right now, we didn't see him being that guy," Mazzilli said. "I just wasn't sure about using him in the pen."
After arriving in camp, Riley did not seem intent on earning the fifth starter spot. Instead he said he would use the first starts of the spring to work on pitches.
"That's not a very intelligent way to go about it," said pitching coach Ray Miller, who as Orioles manager in 1999 first called up Riley to the majors. "Not when you're in the last year of your option year. You have to come into spring training saying, 'I'm going to make this ballclub. I want to show them right from the get-go.' I don't know where he got that idea. I certainly didn't give it to him."
Aside from his problems on the field, Riley was arrested for disorderly conduct after an altercation outside of a bar in 2003, and was the player who threw out a bottle of an ephedra-based medicine from Steve Bechler's locker shortly after the pitcher's death.
Miller remembers being awed by Riley in 1996 during a workout prior to the pitcher being drafted in the third round in 1997.
"That was a great delivery and a great arm," Miller said. "When we signed him, I said, 'Please tell everybody not to mess with his mechanics.' Because they were outstanding mechanics."
Miller said he never saw that same delivery this season.
"I just wasn't consistent," Riley said about his time with the Orioles. "The injuries, some problems off the field that hurt me off the field, some discipline problems. I really felt I turned the page in the last year and a half. I've started to do a lot of things better. I just wasn't quite able to crack it."
Nivar is considered a marginal prospect, ranked 22nd in the Rangers organization by Baseball America. He hit .264 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI for Class AAA Oklahoma City. Considered to have good speed, Nivar stole just 15 bases last year while being caught 15 times. Mazzilli said he will begin the season in Class AAA Ottawa.
"He's had some pretty good minor league years," Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said. "He's a very athletic kid that can play all over."
In other words, Nivar is a prospect -- just as Riley was for years.