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Orioles have four-year, $27.5M deal with Hernandez

BALTIMORE -- Free agent catcher Ramon Hernandez and the
Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a $27.5 million, four-year
contract.

Hernandez's deal is contingent on a physical, a baseball
official familiar with the negotiations said Thursday, speaking on
condition of anonymity. The agreement, which includes a club option
for 2010, probably will not be finalized until next week, the
official said.

The 29-year-old Hernandez batted .290 last season with the San
Diego Padres. He had 12 home runs and 58 RBI, but his main value
is behind the plate, where he has a reputation for calling a smart
game and capably handling a pitching staff.

The addition of Hernandez will mean less time behind the plate
for Orioles catcher Javy Lopez, who complained of sore knees toward
the end of last season. Lopez is eager to spend more time as a
designated hitter and at first base.

Baltimore also might trade Lopez for a starting pitcher, one of
the team's biggest needs.

Hernandez broke into the majors in 1999 with Oakland and played
five seasons with the Athletics before being traded to San Diego in
November 2003. In 805 career games, he's batting .262 with 90
homers and 384 RBI.

Hernandez was enjoying an excellent 2005 season before injuring
his left wrist diving back into first base at Minnesota on June 17.
He had surgery on July 29, but returned to hit .349 with five
homers and 20 RBI in 83 at-bats in the last month to help the
Padres win the NL West title.

He gets $4.5 million next year, $6.5 million in 2007, $7.5
million in 2008 and $8 million in 2009. Baltimore has an $8.5
million option for 2010 with a $1 million buyout.