Slow progress on Aurilia's return
By Marc Lancaster
Rich Aurilia probably will be a Red again by the end of the weekend, but Friday passed with no resolution on the free agent's status.
"At midnight on Sunday it'll be concluded one way or the other," Reds general manager Dan O'Brien said. "All I can tell you is we're working at it and it's been a slower process than anticipated."
Like it or not, the process will end by Sunday's Major League Baseball deadline for free agents offered salary arbitration by their former clubs to re-sign. Indications are Aurilia will do so, but his agent, Barry Axelrod, said the veteran infielder isn't completely sold on what the Reds are offering - in contract terms and playing time.
"We think they're undervaluing his services - or, undervaluing what we thought was a pretty solid performance last year," Axelrod said Friday evening. "We still have a little concern about how this all works with (Tony) Womack being there. They have told us that Richie wouldn't be impacted by Womack's presence, but I'm not sure how he wouldn't be. Tony plays second base, and with (Felipe) Lopez playing short and (Edwin) Encarnacion at third, the more likely position for Richie to have been playing was second. With Womack there, it would seem like that would at least impact some time."
Axelrod said Aurilia has spoken with Reds manager Jerry Narron about how playing time might be divvied up, and all parties involved understand that Aurilia will not be penciled in as the everyday second baseman if he signs. He probably would get the majority of playing time at the position, but also could see some time on the left side of the infield as Narron works Womack and Ryan Freel into the lineup at second.
The compensation issue is another matter. Shortly after the World Series, Aurilia and the Reds mutually agreed to decline an option for 2006 that would have paid him $2 million. If he does return to Cincinnati, it likely won't be for significantly more than that figure. Aurilia doesn't have much leverage on that front, as his time on the open market hasn't generated the kind of offers he hoped for.
"I'm a little surprised that there's not more interest," said Axelrod. "You see guys like (Jose) Vizcaino sign, and Junior Spivey, and Richie just blows them away statistically."
Vizcaino, who hit .246 with one home run and 23 RBIs in 98 games for the Astros this year, signed with San Francisco for $1.25 million. Spivey, who hit .232 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 77 games between Milwaukee and Washington, signed with St. Louis for $1.2 million.
Aurilia hit .282 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs in 114 games with the Reds, so Axelrod's point is well taken. But his phone hasn't been ringing, and that likely will bring Aurilia back to Cincinnati.
"I think there's probably a real good chance something will happen there," said Axelrod. "He did well there last year."