The Baltimore Orioles took the 89th winter meetings into extra inings and still were not able to complete a significant trade, but general manager Roland Hemond salvaged a week of intense negotiations with Thursday's late-night signing of free-agent outfielder Dwight Evans.
There will be no way of knowing until spring training whether Evans will be able to fill the run-production gap. For that matter, there will be no way of knowing whether he will be healthy enough to make a contribution at all. But it was the first really decisive thing the Orioles have done since they traded away Phil Bradley rather than further "humiliate" him with any more one-year contract offers.
Evans has a track record. He has a winning personality, or so it would seem after he contributed mightily to Boston Red Sox division titles in three of the past five years. He also has a sore back, or he still would be with the Red Sox.
It was a gamble. He might miss half the season. He might never play in the field. He is 39, which might be considered young if he were the president of the United States, but is just this side of mandatory retirement age in every professional sport except golf and chess.
There were plenty of reasons not to sign him, but the Orioles used those up on other free agents. Evans was willing to share some of the risk and take an unguaranteed contract. That had to endear him to the Orioles front office. He also had 401 RBI the past four years, which had to endear him to manager Frank Robinson.
He was held to a seven-year low of 67 RBI last season, but that would have ranked him second only to Cal Ripken on the Orioles roster. If his back has improved -- as he and his doctor say -- how can he not make the Orioles a better offensive team than they were last year?
But where to now? There are rumors in San Diego that the Padres are about to trade Greg Harris and Jerald Clark to the Orioles for Craig Worthington and Mark Williamson. There are rumors in Chicago that the Cubs will take Worthington and send outfielder Dwight Smith to Baltimore. There is the likelihood that Mickey Tettleton will accept the club's offer of salary arbitration and that Ron Kittle's contract will be renewed Saturday. There still is hope for this club, even though every other American League East contender acted more aggressively and decisively at the winter meetings.
Hemond reacted with awe when the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar from the Padres for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez, but he was quick to point out that different is not always better. He may be right.
The AL East will have a different look next year, but it's too early to tell if the balance of power has shifted appreciably in any direction. The only thing that's certain is that it has not yet shifted toward the Orioles. Here's a look at how the rest of the division has fared:
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
They were the most active club at the meetings. The McGriff/Fernandez blockbuster was one of the biggest deals of the decade, but an earlier trade that sent Luis Sojo and Junior Felix to the California Angels for center fielder Devon White and relief pitcher Willie Fraser also could have significant implications. If that wasn't enough, the Jays also signed free agents Ken Dayley and Pat Tabler, but lost former AL MVP George Bell and pitcher Bud Black in the re-entry process.
It was an impressive roster shuffle and it apparently was a necessary one, yet it is not clear whether the Blue Jays are better for it.
BOSTON RED SOX The defending division champions lost right-hander Mike Boddicker to free agency and chose not to pick up a $1.3 million option on Evans. They replaced Boddicker with free-agent left-hander Matt Young, who was 8-18 but appears to be on the verge of a breakthrough season. There has been speculation that they will also sign Bob Welch and new-look free agent Jack Clark, but until rumor becomes reality, they have not stocked well for the winter.
The third-place Tigers signed Rob Deer away from the Milwaukee Brewers, Bill Gullickson away from the Houston Astros and Tony Bernazard away from the Daiwa Spinning Reels of the Japanese Central League (or was it the Daiei Hawks?). Deer should get Cecil Fielder a few more fastballs. Gullickson should deepen the starting rotation. Bernazard doesn't figure to make a significant impact, but who thought Fielder would hit 51 home runs?
They replaced Deer with free-agent Franklin Stubbs, signed reliever Ed Nunez and re-signed Ted Higuera. Stubbs and Deer cancel each other out, so the sum total of the Brewers' off-season improvement is Nunez, who was 3-1 with a 2.24 ERA in middle and short relief last year.
Picked up pitchers Eric King and Shawn Hillegas for Cory Snyder, who had dropped out of sight by September anyway. The Indians also had the foresight to get something for Black last year. Too bad they didn't do the same with free-agent Candy Maldonado, who doesn't figure to be back in 1991.
NEW YORK YANKEES
Signed reliever Steve Farr, extended Steve Sax's contract and re-signed free-agent pitcher Tim Leary. They seem intent on keeping last year's club intact, though no one knows exactly why.