Former All-Star catcher Lopez, Rockies agree to deal

DENVER -- Javy Lopez drew interest from teams who wanted him to be their designated hitter, maybe even play an occasional first base.

But the former All-Star was insistent on catching, and the Colorado Rockies think he still can. The 36-year-old and the Rockies reached a preliminary agreement on a $750,000, one-year contract Tuesday.

Lopez just finished a $22.5 million, three-year contract that he signed with the Orioles in December 2003. He hit .265 for Baltimore last season and .190 with the Red Sox before he was released Sept. 8.

"Javy knows this is a huge year for him as it relates to him bouncing back," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "If it's the Javy of a few years ago, it's a good signing. If it's the Javy of last year, it may be a bad signing. This a great opportunity in front of him."

The deal is pending a physical, which is scheduled for later this week. Lopez's salary, which is not guaranteed, would increase to $1 million if he is on the active 25-man roster, and he could earn $600,000 in performance bonuses.

"Colorado is a place and a team and a ballpark that he's always liked," said Chuck Berry, Lopez's agent. "We looked at a half-dozen places that would be good for him to go. Colorado was one of them."

Before the deal was reached, the Rockies encouraged Lopez to visit Jerry Weinstein in San Luis Obispo, Calif. The Rockies wanted Weinstein, who once worked with catchers for the Los Angeles Dodgers, to fine tune Lopez's fundamentals behind the plate.

Weinstein was apprehensive at first. He didn't know how serious Lopez was about this assignment.

"I asked him right away, 'Why are you here?'" said Weinstein, who was recently hired to manage Colorado's Class A affiliate. "He looked at me and said, 'I want to be the comeback player of the year.'"

Lopez and Weinstein spent three days working on technique. They've even vowed to get together again for another session.

"Javy has an unbelievable makeup and was great to work with," Weinstein said. "There's a lot of mileage left."

Lopez wants to put a turbulent 2006 season behind him. He began the year in Baltimore behind the plate, was moved to designated hitter and then went through an experiment at first base. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 4 and released a month later when Jason Varitek returned from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

"Everything that could go wrong for him did go wrong last year," Berry said. "He feels like he has something to prove."

Lopez will go into spring training next month competing with Alvin Colina, Yorvit Torrealba and Chris Iannetta for the starting job at catcher.

"I think he'd loved to have had a guaranteed job," Berry said. "But last year was difficult for him and he's not coming from a real strong position. Colorado provides the greatest opportunity for him to catch."

Lopez broke into the majors with the Atlanta Braves in September 1992 and is a three-time All-Star. He shared catching duties before becoming Atlanta's regular catcher in 1996. He hit .328 with 43 home runs and 109 RBI in his final season with the Braves in 2003.

Lopez has a .287 career average with 260 home runs in 1,503 games. He is a career .356 hitter at Coors Field. His 243 home runs as a catcher rank eighth on the career list at that position.