- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

With the first workouts for pitchers and catchers in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Fla., just days away, the Baltimore Orioles are continuing to shape their roster.
The Orioles remained close to signing free-agent B.J. Surhoff last night, as both sides have been hammering out the details of a contract the last several days, mainly the incentives to Surhoff's deal. The Orioles continued talks with Surhoff last night and could come to terms on a deal today with the veteran outfielder and former Oriole.
Surhoff, 38, first worked out for team officials two weeks ago. He had also considered signing with the New York Mets because they are a playoff contender, but showed strong interest in returning to the Orioles, for whom he played from 1996 to 2000. His offseason home is in the Baltimore area.
"Hopefully we can get it close and get it done," Orioles vice president for baseball operations Jim Beattie said. "We're looking for the best way to structure it."
Yesterday, the club announced it had signed veteran right-hander Rick Helling to a minor-league contract and invited him to spring training. If Helling makes the roster, he'll earn $1million this season and have a chance at another $1million in incentives.
Helling went 10-12 with a 4.51 ERA with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season and pitched the previous four seasons with the Texas Rangers. The year he became a full-time starter, in 1998, he had the best season of his nine-year career when he went 20-7 with a 4.41 ERA. Though he has been extremely durable, making 30-plus starts in each of the last five seasons, he has never recorded an ERA below 4.41.
"We're getting more pitching depth for no cost, really," Beattie said. "We have to reach out and do these types of deals."
Helling, 32, will compete for a spot at the back end of the Orioles' rotation, and given the candidates, could possibly earn a starter's role. Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal and Sidney Ponson are penciled in at the top three spots, while Pat Hentgen is the likely fourth starter. After that, fifth-starter candidates include Jason Johnson, Scott Erickson, John Stephens, Travis Driskill and Helling.
As for Surhoff, he would join an outfield already stocked with veterans. With him and Helling on the roster, the Orioles will have trade options. The club still wants to acquire a power hitter and wants to remain as flexible as it can, so signing both players would help.
Meanwhile, Beattie said the club is prepared to go to arbitration today with the first of its three eligible players, second baseman Jerry Hairston. The Orioles have had little conversation this offseason with Hairston's representation in an effort to work out a contract. Hairston, who hit .268 last season, is asking for $1.8million while the Orioles have offered $1.15million. Ponson (Feb.18) and Melvin Mora (Feb.19) also have arbitration hearings.

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