MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The Baltimore Orioles didn't waste any time getting into the spirit of the winter meetings. They signed free-agent outfielder Dwight Evans to a one-year contract just two hours after club officials arrived in Florida.
General manager Roland Hemond announced yesterday afternoon that Evans had agreed to return for the 1992 season for a $900,000 non-guaranteed salary and a bonus program that could push his earnings past the $1.1 million he totaled in his first year with the club.
The winter meetings used to be baseball's annual trading convention, but the past few years the session has been more of a free-agent festival. The Evans contract was the first significant transaction announced at this year's meetings, which are being held at the Fontainebleau Hilton resort.
Evans, 40, batted .270 with six home runs and 38 RBI in a limited role last year, but made a successful return to the outfield after injuries restricted him to designated hitter duty in his final season (1990) with the Boston Red Sox.
He filed for free agency in November, apparently to look elsewhere for more playing time, but accepted the Orioles' offer on the final day for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their free agents.
"He had indicated that he liked it very much in Baltimore," Hemond said. "He had leanings toward returning. Right along, we had hope to get him back. We're very pleased."
The Orioles made no secret of their intentions. Manager John Oates said in September that he wanted Evans back for another year, but he also said that the veteran outfielder would come to spring training with little hope of being an everyday player. Evans never argued the point, but he left his options open by entering the free-agent market.
Hemond stopped short of placing any limitations on Evans' prospective playing time, but the club plans to use him as a part-time DH and a pinch-hit specialist who can play the outfield if needed.
"It all depends on how things develop," Hemond said. "He did a good job for us last year and it was a new role. Now, he's more acclimated to a part-time role."
Evans proved that he had recovered sufficiently from a chronic back injury to play regularly in the outfield, but he ceded right field to rookie Chito Martinez after a sore Achilles' tendon forced Evans onto the disabled list in June.
He still managed to appear in more than 100 games and batted only two points below his career batting average (.272). He also ranked among the top four pinch hitters in the American League with a .400 average.
The solid statistics were nice, but the Orioles could have found a dozen less expensive players with similar 1991 credentials. That wasn't the point. The club wants Evans' 19 years of major-league experience to rub off on the young players who figure prominently in the team's plans for next season.
"At the end of last year, Chito Martinez said, 'Boy, did I get some great help from Dwight Evans,' " Hemond said. "That shows the kind of player he is. Here was a player who was taking playing time away from him and he was still willing to help."
Evans will get the entire $900,000 base salary if he is on the Orioles roster on Opening Day. If he does not make the club, he would receive about $150,000 in severance pay.
Last year, he went to spring training with a contract that guaranteed him $300,000, but his base salary rose to $800,000 when he made the club and incentives for games played added another $300,000 to the equation.
NOTES: Free-agent P Kirk McCaskill plans to travel to Baltimore next week to meet face-to-face with Orioles officials. He may also meet with the Red Sox while he is on the East Coast. . . . The Orioles named former Expos scout Manny Estrada their international scouting supervisor. He'll oversee scouting in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, Panama, Australia, the Netherland Antilles and other parts of the world. "I think it is the logical follow-up to our stated intention to increase the emphasis on scouting and player development," scouting director Gary Nichols said. . . . The club also hired former Cubs farmhand Harry Shelton, 27, to scout the Northern Florida area. . . . Hemond was scheduled to meet with the Phillies late last night -- his first meeting with another club.