Orioles, Roberts Appear Close to Extension

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 5 -- In the middle of the Baltimore Orioles' exhibition game against the Florida Marlins on Monday, Brian Roberts, given the day off, walked out of the team's executive offices at Fort Lauderdale Stadium in full uniform and was stunned to see a group of reporters waiting outside the clubhouse.

"I've got nothing for you guys," Roberts said.

The reporters actually were waiting to speak to Adam Loewen, who had pitched in the game. But that such a stakeout for Roberts could have occurred was not so far-fetched. Monday was a big day for the Orioles second baseman.

His agent, Mark Pieper, met with Orioles executives Mike Flanagan and Jim Duquette for more than an hour in the afternoon in an attempt to hammer out a contract extension. The talks had progressed to the point that both sides appeared optimistic they could complete a deal soon.

Roberts and the Orioles are close to finalizing a two-year contract extension that would buy out Roberts's first year of free agency in 2009, according to one source close to the negotiations. The deal, which could be announced Wednesday, is believed to be worth between $11 million and $13 million.

"We thought we made some progress today," Duquette said. "We're definitely optimistic about it, but there's definitely some work to do. I think we agreed to at some point have some closure to it. We're either going to finish the deal or decide to not. But as long as we're having positive dialogue, we'll see. We still have some time."

The team and Roberts, who avoided arbitration this offseason by signing a one-year, $4.2 million contract, had set an unofficial deadline of April 1, the day before the start of the regular season, to complete contract talks. It appears negotiations might not go past this week. Duquette said the team even hoped to sign Roberts beyond 2009.

"I think both sides have given their sense of their feelings," he said. "It's obvious how we feel about him. It's obvious how he feels about the organization. I think there's always a desire to have a player like this locked up a little bit longer, but if that doesn't seem like a possibility, then whatever short-term deal we can do, that would be just as preferable."

Roberts seemed reluctant to talk about the contract. "We had good conversations, productive conversations but we are not quite there yet," said Pieper, who left Fort Lauderdale on Monday to visit other clients in Florida. But it appears his presence won't be needed to complete the deal.

"We've definitely talked enough," Pieper said. "I think at times it would be better face-to-face, but this is not the first day we started working on this. I've always remained optimistic about this. We've always had good conversation. I don't know where it's going to end up, but I'm always optimistic. There's no reason not to be, based on our discussions."

If Roberts finalizes a two-year deal, all of the Orioles' core players would be signed through the 2009 season: Miguel Tejada, Jay Gibbons, Melvin Mora, Aubrey Huff, Ramon Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker all will become free agents after 2009.

Baltimore signed Mora and Gibbons to contract extensions this past year. "It's consistent with what we're trying to do philosophically," Duquette said.

Duquette added: "When you think of the Baltimore Orioles, one of the guys you think of is Brian Roberts. He's one of the guys that fans and people within the industry equate the Orioles with."

Roberts's breakout season came in 2005, his only all-star season, when he hit .314 with 18 home runs and 73 RBI. That season was cut short when Roberts suffered a devastating elbow injury in which he tore several ligaments and tendons.

Roberts had reconstructive elbow surgery in September that year, which altered his preparations for the 2006 season. Weakened by the elbow, Roberts hit .286 with 10 home runs last year. But the Orioles are optimistic Roberts can duplicate his 2005 season. All but one of his home runs last year came after the all-star break.

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