ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Orioles today lost free agent Franklin Stubbs to division rival Milwaukee, and their trade possibilities remain slim. But if nothing else, the club appears close to its first major acquisition of the winter meetings:
Evans' agent, Jack Sands, said he spoke four times with club officials yesterday -- twice by telephone, twice face-to-face. In addition, Evans had a telephone conversation with Orioles manager Frank Robinson about the role he could play for the club next year.
"I conveyed to him what I convey to all my players -- I like to see my players do more than one thing," Robinson said. "If he was here, I'd like to see him play some outfield, DH, play some first base and pinch hit. He said that's all right with him. He'd like that."
Meanwhile, Stubbs today reached a three-year agreement with Milwaukee, reportedly for $6 million. Agent Jim Turner said the Orioles put their "best foot forward" in the negotiations, but now Stubbs will play rightfield for the Brewers.
AL East champion Boston yesterday signed the other free agent the Orioles were pursuing, lefthander Matt Young, to a three-year, $6.35 million contract. That leaves the 39-year-old Evans as the only free agent with whom the club is active.
Sands hedged on the question of whether he was close to a deal with the Orioles, saying the negotiations were wide-ranging and complex. But the number of teams interested in Evans is decreasing. And the Orioles, thwarted on nearly every other front, seem anxious to make a move.
The failure to sign Stubbs represents a major blow, for the club's No. 1 need is a power hitter. But Turner indicated yesterday he was close to a deal. "I want to get rolling," he said. "There's a market taking shape the way I want it to take shape. They [the Orioles] have to react to it."
General manager Roland Hemond and club president Larry Lucchino met for an hour yesterday with Alan and Randy Hendricks, the representatives for free-agent outfielder George Bell. But the talks broke off in predictable fashion, and Bell is expected to sign a lucrative contract with the Chicago Cubs today.
Hemond said he discussed trades with San Diego, Philadelphia and Toronto yesterday, but described the talks as "nothing of a major nature." It somehow slipped his mind that he also spoke three times with the Red Sox, who again appear serious about righthander Pete Harnisch.
Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman presented the Orioles with several new proposals for Harnisch, one day after refusing to part with first baseman Carlos Quintana or outfielder Phil Plantier. An Orioles source said the talks were "an ongoing thing . . . kind of like a soap opera."
Meanwhile, a source said the Orioles targeted one of San Diego's lefthanded relievers (Derek Lilliquist?), while the Padres had "some" interest in third baseman Craig Worthington. But it appears the Orioles can forget about acquiring infielder/outfielder Bip Roberts, a switch-hitter who batted .309 last season.
The Phillies again raised the issue of outfielder Von Hayes, but they need a second baseman and lefthanded reliever, so there's no fit. As for Toronto, a source described the talks as "very, very low level" -- despite the Jays' interest in trading lefthander John Cerutti.
Which leave Evans, the major leagues' active home-run leader with 379. He just turned 39, and he has a bone spur in his lower back. But his injury apparently is not deterring the Orioles, who declined a $400,000 option on lefthander Joe Price's contract because he had a bulging disc.
Sands said the club has indeed expressed doubts about Evans' condition, "and rightfully so" -- the Red Sox were concerned enough to release their veteran of 19 years. Evans, however, received medical clearance from doctors with Boston and the Chicago White Sox, and is anxious to continue his career.
The White Sox originally were believed to have the inside track for his services, but their acquisition of outfielder Cory Snyder from Cleveland last night should eliminate them from the bidding. Detroit also had interest, but dropped out after signing free-agent outfielder Rob Deer.
Cleveland remains a possibility, as does Milwaukee, but no club has pursued Evans with as much vigor as the budget-conscious Orioles. He would not cost the club a draft pick, and he probably would settle for a one-year, $1 million contract plus incentives after earning $1.5 million last season.
The way Sands tell it, Evans' principal concern is not money, but whether he would be comfortable in Baltimore after spending his entire career in Boston. Evans resides in Lynfield, Mass., and Sands said there is "no question" that the proximity of another East Coast city is appealing.
Evans also is intrigued by the idea of a leadership role with the youthful Orioles, Sands said, and has always been impressed by the warmth and tradition of the organization -- something that was preached to him in recent years by teammate Mike Boddicker, a former Oriole now with Kansas City.
So, will he sign?
"You never know if you're close," Sands said yesterday afternoon. "What we're trying to do now is see if there's a fit. No numbers have been exchanged. It's a question of his role being defined, how comfortable he'll be in that role, whether they're going to be happy with him."
A few hours later, Sands returned to the lobby of the Hyatt Regency O'Hare to purchase four sodas. As he juggled his beverages, he was asked the number of times he had met with the Orioles. Sands held up four fingers. This time, the agent couldn't contain his smile.