The free-agent market did a brisk business this week, and the Baltimore Orioles apparently did not want to be left out of the fun. They finally jumped into the bidding Wednesday with contract offers to left-handed pitcher Matt Young and first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs.
Agent Jim Turner told The Evening Sun that the Orioles had extended a three-year offer for Stubbs, who hit 23 home runs and had 71 RBI for the Houston Astros in 1990. It would be fair to assume that the offer to Young also covered three years, since he left the Seattle Mariners after turning down a two-year deal.
The Orioles made their offers on the same day that pitchers Danny Jackson and Tom Browning each signed a four-year contract worth more than $10 million and former Orioles right-hander Mike Boddicker accepted a three-year, $9 million deal from the Kansas City Royals.
Lest anyone assume that the market is strong for pitchers only, Wednesday also was the day that outfielder Rob Deer signed a three-year, $6.05 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.
Stubbs and Young originally were appealing to the Orioles because they figured to come at a more reasonable price than some of the premier players on this year's large free-agent roster. But the Orioles have run into surprisingly strong competition for their services.
Turner received his first offer for Stubbs eight days ago, and indicated then that as many as six teams were preparing contract proposals. He would not characterize the Orioles' offer, except to say that he was looking forward to further negotiations.
Young figures to get more popular now that several of the other left-handers (Jackson, Browning and Bud Black) are no longer on the market. He was 8-18 for the Mariners last year, but his 3.51 ERA and his 94-mph fastball left room to wonder if he is on the verge of a breakthrough season.
The Orioles are eager to acquire a left-handed starter, and for good reason. The projected rotation for 1991 is entirely right-handed. Left-hander Jeff Ballard could make a bid to recapture his spot in the rotation, but the club badly needs a better right-left balance.
Stubbs would give the team another 20-home-run threat in the middle of the lineup. The Orioles depended largely on Cal Ripken and Randy Milligan for offensive punch in 1990. Now, with the return of power-hitting catcher Mickey Tettleton in doubt, another run-producer appears to be a must.
General manager Roland Hemond spent much of October and November trying to trade for outfield help, but it has become apparent to the club that trading activity could remain depressed until spring training. The free-agent bids this week are the first solid evidence that the Orioles are willing to spend the millions necessary to compete for the American League East title next year.
Even if the club hands $2 million salaries to the likes of Stubbs and Young, it still would have one of the lowest payrolls in the major leagues -- probably about $11 million.