Flanagan and Sheets invited to Orioles reunion

February 15, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

On a day that the Orioles settled their lone remaining arbitration case, the big news involved two familiar players who didn't sign.

Jeff Robinson, the righthander obtained from Detroit in thMickey Tettleton trade, agreed to a $575,000 contract for 1991. But it was the addition of two ex-Orioles to the spring training roster that created most of the interest yesterday.

That Mike Flanagan is coming to camp hardly ranks as surprise. The 39-year-old lefthander has been working out with the Orioles for the last six weeks and his progress has been monitored closely by bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks.

But the announcement that Larry Sheets had accepted a sprintraining invitation created a few ripples. When he was traded to Detroit a year ago for utility man Mike Brumley, Sheets, a lefthanded-hitting outfielder/DH, departed under less than ideal circumstances.

Manager Frank Robinson suggested the Orioles would benefifrom "addition by subtraction." He meant that the trade would create more opportunity for younger players, but Sheets was stung by what he interpreted as an inference the Orioles would profit merely because of his absence.

"What's over is over with -- that's behind me," said Sheets, 31. "don't have any problem about coming back. I know there are no promises, no guarantees, but I'm excited about coming back."

Flanagan and Sheets both said their return was influenced amuch by their background as anything. "This is my home," said Flanagan. "I've lived here for 17 years now. Besides I never did get used to those blue spikes [worn by the Toronto Blue Jays, who released him last May]."

After one year in Detroit (10 home runs, 52 runs batted in, .26average), Sheets became one of many free agents who was underwhelmed by offers. He looked around and decided that no guarantee here was better than no guarantee someplace else.

"I was brought up as an Oriole," said Sheets, originally froVirginia, but a resident of Baltimore County for the last six years. "I enjoy Baltimore."

Flanagan accepted the Orioles' invitation -- one of several thawere tendered -- after Bob Teaff, his representative, had several conversations with Orioles general manager Roland Hemond. "Basically what we wanted to know was what to expect if I make the team," said Flanagan. "We still don't have it completely ironed out, but hopefully that will get taken care of a few weeks down the road."

There has been speculation the Orioles are mainly interested iFlanagan as a reliever because of his track record against lefthanded hitters. But, at this point, nothing is certain.

"I have no preconceived plans for Flanny," said Robinson. "We'rgoing to get him some work and see how he fits in."

The Orioles have a long relief opening created by the departurof Joe Price, and Kevin Hickey is the only other major-league lefthander available out of the bullpen.

Flanagan has said he understands that might be his besopportunity, but he will go to camp without a clearly defined role. "I'm going to go down there with the idea of just being a pitcher," he said.

Jeff Ballard, the only experienced lefthanded candidate for thstarting rotation, said he welcomes the addition of Flanagan. "I've pitched a little bit with Mike, and we're a lot alike," said Ballard. "I can learn from just having him around. I think it will be good for me. I don't look at Mike as competition."

Sheets, who could never fully accept a limited role here in thpast, has a different perspective this time around. "It was good for me to get away last year," he admitted. "It was time to refine myself again.

"It was the first time in a couple of years that I felt like I had a grion baseball, that I was getting something accomplished.

"I realize I'm kind of the odd man now, trying to fit in," saiSheets. "But I feel I have a lot I can give to the club. I realize I'd have to pinch-hit, fill in as the designated hitter. I've anticipated that. And I told Roland I'd be willing to work in spring training so I could fit in as a third catcher."

The Orioles have invited Ernie Whitt, a former teammate oFlanagan's at Toronto, to spring training as a potential third catcher, but Robinson seemed intrigued by Sheets' suggestion. "That's a good thought," said Robinson. "I hadn't thought about it, but it's something to think about. We've got a lot of righthanded bats and Larry's a lefthanded hitter, so we're just going to take a look at him and see what happens."

*

By signing Robinson the Orioles avoided arbitration for the 13th straight year. They have not had to go through the process since winning their case with infielder Billy Smith in 1978.

Robinson was 10-9, but with an inflated 5.96 earned run averaglast year with the Tigers. He is considered a candidate for the starting rotation, but could also be used in long relief.

Rookie infielder Leo Gomez also agreed to terms yesterdayGomez, the Orioles' minor league Player of the Year in 1990, hit .277, with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs and 97 runs scored at Rochester.

Little known fact: Since 1983, when Eddie Murray hit 33, nobodhas hit more home runs in a season than the 31 Sheets hit in 1987 (when he also batted .316).

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