Orioles 3, Twins 2
They welcomed back Erik Bedard, who had been on the disabled list since May 26, and Sammy Sosa, whose bat had been on hiatus for a month, and readied themselves for an impending roster crush that figures to happen on Tuesday.
The Baltimore Orioles, 3-2 winners over the Minnesota Twins, were a team on the eve of a drastic makeover with the acquisition of Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett and infielder Mike Lowell likely to be finalized Tuesday, according to several baseball sources. The Orioles will send outfielder Larry Bigbie, pitcher Hayden Penn and relievers Jorge Julio, Steve Reed and Steve Kline to the Marlins. Baltimore also will receive minor league outfielder Eric Reed.
The Boston Red Sox, one of the teams actively pursuing Burnett, believed they were no longer in the running for the pitcher.
"We have not heard anything official, but we do not get the sense that the Marlins are engaging us with much urgency," a Red Sox official said. "In other words, they seem more inclined to go in another direction."
If, as expected, the Orioles face a drastic roster haul, the current version of the team did quite well on its final night. Bedard pitched six scoreless innings, striking out seven, after missing almost two months with a sprained knee, and Sosa hit his first home run since June 18, a 420-foot two-run blast in the seventh inning that moved him into sole possession of sixth place on the career list with 584, one more than Mark McGwire. Miguel Tejada won the game with a home run in the 11th inning, leaving the Orioles tied with the Red Sox for second place in the AL East, half a game behind the New York Yankees.
As of late Monday night, according to several sources close to the Orioles, Baltimore had all but decided not to sign Burnett to a contract extension prior to making the deal. The Orioles hoped Burnett, a free agent after this season whose wife is from the Baltimore area, would sign a new contract after the trade was made.
"My preference would be to sign everyone to one-year contracts," Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie said in general terms and not specifically about the impending trade. "But you have to do what you have to do to get players signed. Sometimes it's worth the risk."
Previously, agent Darek Braunecker, who represents Burnett, had said the pitcher would not negotiate during the season, but he softened his stance on Monday.
"If they were to present something to us that we could resolve quickly, I wouldn't say we wouldn't do that," Braunecker said.
Part of the reason the Orioles have decided to acquire Burnett without a new contract is so they could rid themselves of the salaries of Kline and Reed in the deal. If the Orioles can say they are only guaranteed of having Burnett for half a season, the Marlins take the two relievers off their hands as a way to sweeten the deal for Baltimore. Kline was signed to a two-year, $5.6 million deal in the offseason. Reed is making $900,000 on a one-year deal.
Bigbie, Kline and Julio had all but conceded they would be traded. Bigbie and Julio joked about needing to buy sunscreen to protect themselves from the Florida sun. Kline began to say goodbye to reporters. Bigbie, who conspicuously was not in the lineup Monday, admitted, while it pained him to leave, perhaps the trade would mean a better opportunity for him with the Marlins.
The team had been so uncertain about the status of the roster that it did not announce which player would be taken off the team in order to activate Bedard from the disabled list until minutes before the game. Long reliever James Baldwin was designated for assignment, further fueling the thought that a deal for Burnett was near. Acquiring Burnett means the Orioles will have to demote a starter, eliminating the need to keep Baldwin as a long reliever.
The team had asked Kline to accept a demotion to Class AA Bowie in order to work on his mechanics. The reliever, 2-3 with a 5.61 ERA, declined to go to Bowie, so the Orioles made the move with Baldwin.
At this point, the most likely candidate to fill Baldwin's spot in the bullpen is Sidney Ponson, who has a 6.04 ERA and is 2-7 in his past 12 games. He would be an $8.5 million long reliever.
"I'm acknowledging that there are talks going on that might impact the roster," Beattie said. "That's all. That's fair. That's why we waited [to make the Baldwin move], otherwise we would have tried to do something earlier. But with respect to the information coming in and the timing of it, we tried not to make a move that would" hurt the roster.
One move that won't be made is shifting Melvin Mora from third base to accommodate Lowell, who will be owed $21.25 million through 2007.
"I wouldn't move Melvin out of third base unless Brooks Robinson came back," Beattie said.