Pudge, Lopez could share plate time

With Vladimir Guerrero waiting for a more attractive offer, the Baltimore Orioles are again considering the possibility of signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

In a winter in which the Orioles are among very few teams willing to spend big dollars, Baltimore already has signed catcher Javy Lopez, as well as shortstop Miguel Tejada. But their contract talks with Guerrero have stalled, and the Orioles are again inquiring about Rodriguez.

If the Orioles were to sign Rodriguez -- who rejected a three-year, $28 million offer from Baltimore last month -- he and Lopez would share the catching responsibilities, with both also sharing time at designated hitter. This would reduce the workload on both, and within the Orioles' organization, there is a line of thought that the extra rest could make Rodriguez and Lopez more effective offensively, and give the team extraordinary depth in the event of an injury to either.

The Orioles have increased their offer to Guerrero incrementally over their initial five-year, $65 million proposal, a deal that would dwarf any other contract concluded this off-season. But Guerrero is seeking a seven-year, $105 million contract, and the Orioles have gotten some indications that Guerrero might be reluctant to play in Baltimore. Now Guerrero is negotiating with the Mets on a three-year contract; if he were to sign with any team other than the Orioles, Guerrero would have to walk away from perhaps $40 million.

With slugging outfielders Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Beltran scheduled to become free agents next fall, the Orioles could upgrade their lineup now by signing Rodriguez to a smaller deal than they've offered Guerrero, and then pursue an outfielder after the 2004 season.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.