SARASOTA, Fla. -- Left-hander Joe Price said that he agonized over the decision, but eventually decided a Rochester Red Wings contract was better than none. He notified the Baltimore Orioles yesterday that he would sign and report to Twin Lakes Park in time for tomorrow's workout.
Price had been cleared Thursday by the Player Relations Committee and the Major League Players Association to re-sign with the Orioles, but the PRC would not waive a rule that prevents him from pitching for the club at the major-league level before May 1.
The Orioles had petitioned the PRC to waive that clause of the Basic Agreement, which affects free agents who were not offered arbitration by their original clubs. Price did receive permission to sign the minor-league contract, but initially balked at the notion of spending the first three weeks of the regular season at the Class AAA level.
"If I want to play baseball, these are the rules I have to live with," said Price, whose chronic lower back injury apparently frightened away potential employers. "The thing that disappoints is the system. Here is something in the Basic Agreement that actually hurts a player. It's there to help most players, but it doesn't help the middle-of-the-pack players."
He will, however, be allowed to report to camp and work out with the major-league club, and is expected to arrive in Sarasota tonight.
Price also agreed to terms on an incentive-laden deal that will go into effect when he joins the major-league club. No terms were disclosed, but he said that he can improve on last year's $400,000 in salary and incentives if he appears in as many games as he did in 1990.
The Orioles could offer no guarantee that Price will be recalled May 1, but the club remains short on left-handed pitching.
"Roland Hemond told my agent that, although he couldn't guarantee anything, the club really hadn't done anything to fill my spot," Price said. "I don't think that will be a problem. I think that if I'm pitching well, there really won't be much choice to make.
"It's only a month. I don't think I have anything to prove. I don't see myself being down there very long."
The signing brought an end to a frustrating off-season for Price, who was 3-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 50 appearances for the Orioles last year. The club held a $400,000 option on his contract for 1991, but declined to exercise it, citing the disk injury that forced Price onto the 15-day disabled list in July.
The club tried to persuade Price at the time to accept a lower base salary and a bigger incentive package, but he chose to test the free-agent market. As it turned out, he would have been far better off taking the original Orioles offer.
"I actually told my agent [Thursday] night to tell them I would be there, but my son made me feel better about the decision," Price said. "I was getting him ready for school and I told him: 'Ryan, I don't like having to make this decision. I'm going to have to spend a month in Triple-A, and that means I'll be away from you for a month.' He said, 'Well, a month isn't that long.' Given all the time I've invested in this game, if all it's going to take is a month, I can handle that.
"You don't have to like it, but I'm not going to come in with the wrong attitude. Life's too short for that."
The arrival of Price gives the club one more option in the bullpen. The Orioles are giving Kevin Hickey a shot at one of the setup roles and are auditioning Mike Flanagan and Dan Boone for a long-relief job.
"Joe Price has nothing to prove," said Hickey. "He did a good job for us last season, and he's been pretty successful over the past 10 years. It's a shame that he had a bad back, and that hindered him enough that they had doubts."
Left-handed pitching depth remains a matter of some concern, but manager Frank Robinson was pleased to hear that more help is on the way.
"That's just one more experienced left-hander," he said. "We have a lot more qualified candidates than we had a couple of months ago."