CALL THEM the low-budget lefties -- low budget translating to, oh, approximately $1 million per year. Their names are Bill Krueger and Don Carman, and the Orioles have them on their 'B' list of free agents in the event they fail to sign lefthander Matt Young.
The club offered contracts to both Young and first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs last Wednesday, but the way free-agent salaries keep soaring, there's a good chance both players will be prohibitively expensive.
Welcome to the recession, major-league style: Lefthander Ken Dayley yesterday signed a three-year, $6.3 million contract with Toronto, righthander Steve Farr the same deal with the New York Yankees. Never again will a middle-inning reliever complain of anonymity.
The free-spending frenzy almost certainly will trickle down to Young and Stubbs, forcing the Orioles to consider backup plans. Detroit, Boston and Seattle are among the clubs reportedly pursuing Young. Cleveland and Atlanta reportedly are trying to sign Stubbs.
The winter meetings begin Saturday in Chicago, and the Orioles should know where they stand with both players by then. "We expect some kind of feedback this week, some kind of response, suggestions for the next steps," a club official said.
The Orioles have expressed interest in four power-hitting outfielders besides Stubbs -- Candy Maldonado, Jeffrey Leonard, Tom Brunansky and George Bell. They probably would prefer a trade to any of those free agents. Krueger and Carman, on the other hand, are viable options after Young.
The agents for both pitchers confirmed preliminary interest from the Orioles yesterday. That interest could turn serious even if Young joins the club's starting rotation. Both Krueger and Carman can either start or relieve, and the Orioles badly need a lefthander in their bullpen.
Krueger, 32, finished 6-8 with a 3.98 ERA for Milwaukee last season. Seventeen of his 30 appearances were starts. Carman, 31, went 6-2 with a 4.15 ERA for Philadelphia. All but one of his 59 appearances came in relief.
The Yankees, Boston and Seattle also like Krueger, but at this point, neither he nor Carman is drawing heavy interest, not with lefthanded starters like Young, Teddy Higuera and Fernando Valenzuela still available as free agents.
That should change after the winter meetings. Krueger earned $335,000 last season, Carman $540,000. They aren't likely to seek lucrative raises, and Krueger, like Young, does not carry the baggage of draft-pick compensation.
At the moment, the team that signs Carman would forfeit a second-round pick. But the Phillies aren't expected to offer him salary arbitration by Dec. 7. At that point he too would become non-compensation.
The Orioles' approach to both pitchers reflects that timetable: Krueger's agent, Tony Attanasio, said he spoke with general manager Roland Hemond shortly before Thanksgiving. Carman's agent, Scott Boras, said his most recent talk with Hemond was two weeks ago.
"They're not going to knock anybody out with big money, I know that," said Attanasio, who also represents Orioles free-agent catcher Mickey Tettleton. "Krueger is perfect for them -- they don't lose a draft pick, they don't have to spend a billion dollars."
Assuming Attanasio is correct, the Orioles will indeed be outbid for Young, a pitcher who finished 8-18 with a 3.51 ERA for Seattle last season, but ranked among the AL leaders in three critical categories -- innings (225 1/3 ), strikeouts (176) and complete games (seven).
If that happens, they'll still need a lefthander to balance their starting rotation, and they'll still need a lefthander for their bullpen. Krueger and Carman are the types of marginal players they've liked in the past. And the types they supposedly wanted to avoid in the future.