- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

BALTIMORE — In another move to bring the once-proud Baltimore Orioles franchise back to respectability, club officials announced yesterday they agreed to a three-year deal with All-Star catcher Javy Lopez believed to be worth an estimated $23million.

Lopez, who is coming off a career year of 43 home runs, 109 RBI and a .328 average for the Atlanta Braves, joins All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada. The Orioles signed Tejada to a six-year, $72million contract as part of the club’s free-spending, rebuilding effort that could soon include another All-Star in outfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

“Those contract talks [with Guerrero] are ongoing and will continue through the holidays,” club vice president Mike Flanagan said.

The agreement with Lopez would appear to be a blow to the other All-Star catcher on the market, Ivan Rodriguez. Rodriguez is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has been at the center of the Alex Rodriguez trade furor. Orioles officials are still considering signing Ivan Rodriguez and using Lopez primarily as a designated hitter.

Flanagan called Lopez, 33, “the target guy we liked through this process.”

Lopez reached a deal with the Orioles late Sunday night to be their catcher, as well as getting playing time as a DH and at first base. He put up those career numbers for Atlanta (a major-league record 43 home runs for a catcher) while he was limited to 129 games and 457 at-bats. In Baltimore the goal will be to get Lopez as many at-bats as possible.

“We are going to give him the opportunity to have the kind of season he has last year without being crammed into 129 games,” Flanagan said.

The deal will be final pending Lopez passing a physical today in Baltimore. Under terms reported by the Associated Press, Lopez will get a $1.5million signing bonus and earn $5.5million in 2004, $7million in 2005 and $8.5million in 2006. He can earn an additional $350,000 each year in performance bonuses for plate appearances.

“What Javy brings to the table is substantial postseason experience,” Flanagan said. “He brings a veteran presence to our club who played a big part in creating and maintaining Atlanta’s winning environment.”

Lopez was the Most Valuable Player in the 1996 National League Championship Series and has a .278 batting average with 10 home runs and 28 RBI in 60 postseason games. In 10 years with the Braves, Lopez had a batting average of .287, with 214 homers and 694 RBI. Over the last seven seasons, he averaged a homer every 17.62 at-bats, second among active catchers behind Mike Piazza.

Based on last season’s numbers by Tejada and Lopez, the Orioles have added 70 home runs and 215 RBI in the past week, and they still have another power hitter, Guerrero, in their sights. Still, their starting pitching remains untested at best, with a staff that could include Rodrigo Lopez, Kurt Ainsworth, Omar Daal, Matt Riley and Eric DuBose.

Flanagan, a 1979 Cy Young Award winner for the Orioles, said the club is not afraid of going into the season with a young rotation, adding, “We are confident of developing a number of our young pitchers.”

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