On a busy day for the Baltimore Orioles at baseball's winter meetings, the team traded utility infielder Jeff Reboulet, made a proposal to free agent pitcher Chuck Finley, discussed trade possibilities with at least seven teams and all but wrapped up negotiations with first baseman-outfielder Jeff Conine and catcher Greg Myers.
The Orioles shipped Reboulet, 35, to the Kansas City Royals for a nonroster player to be named later. Reboulet batted .162 in 99 games last season but provided his typical steady defense.
The move was a signal that the Orioles believe rookie Jesse Garcia, who had three call-up stints with the Orioles in 1999, is ready to assume the utility role.
"Garcia gives us more versatility," Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift said, "and we are really trying to give our young players the opportunity to play."
The Orioles met today with Tim Shannon, Finley's agent, and Shannon said the Orioles are one of four teams to have made offers for the 37-year-old left-hander, who is seeking a three-year deal for about $27 million. The other teams are the Red Sox, Mariners and Indians.
According to baseball sources, the bidding for Finley has reached the neighborhood of about $24 million. Shannon said he is willing to be "financially creative" with the contract, in terms of deferred money and incentives.
Asked whether he believes the Orioles can meet Finley's demands, Thrift said, "I think that because they are being flexible, there is that possibility." But he said "the final decision" on how high they will go rests with Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, who has been kept abreast of the negotiations.
The Orioles consider Finley their primary target to fill a hole for a starting pitcher. But they have pursued other avenues, including several trades. They met today with the Pirates, Cubs, Mets, Royals, Indians, Padres and Twins.
Baseball sources said the Orioles made a trade proposal to the Pirates for one of the Pirates' two available pitchers, right-handers Francisco Cordova or Jason Schmidt. The Orioles also spoke today with the Padres about left-hander Sterling Hitchcock. But sources said the teams decided there was no fit.
"A trade for a pitcher is a difficult, but not impossible, task," Thrift said.
The Orioles have indicated a willingness to part with some of their high-profile position players who do not have no-trade clauses--including left fielder B.J. Surhoff and catcher Charles Johnson--as well as some of their many low minor league pitching prospects.
Also today, the Orioles reached an agreement in principle with Myers, a left-handed hitting catcher who will back up Johnson, and are close to finalizing a deal with Conine, 33, whose agent, Michael Watkins, met with Thrift for about 15 minutes today.
"We're down to one sticking point," Watkins said, "and I don't think it will be a problem."
Because of 40-man roster constraints, the Orioles are waiting to announce the Myers deal until after Monday's Rule V draft.
Orioles notes: As part of the reshaping of the Orioles' front office, the team has hired former Milwaukee Brewers scout Danny Garcia to be a special assistant to Thrift. Additionally, Thrift's title is expected to be changed to vice president of baseball operations. . . .
In an informal meeting with reporters today, new Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said the reports he has received on Cal Ripken's rehabilitation from September back surgery indicate Ripken is on schedule for a return in spring training.