MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The Orioles would like to trade for the pitching help they need, but it apparently is a lot easier to add to the growing list of free-agent pitchers who have caught their interest.
The latest is righthander Rick Sutcliffe, who was not a serious consideration until the Chicago Cubs failed to offer him salary arbitration by the Dec. 7 deadline. He could be had for a one-year contract and does not require draft-choice compensation.
Agent Barry Axelrod said yesterday that he has been in contact with Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, whose quest for a solid starting pitcher already has led to negotiations with free agents Kirk McCaskill, Joe Hesketh and Bob Walk. If those aren't enough possibilities, the club also was scheduled to talk to the agent for righthander Ron Darling last night.
Sutcliffe missed about half of the 1991 season with shoulder problems, but that's why he would be affordable to the Orioles. He was 6-5 with a 4.10 ERA, but was throwing very well at the end of the season.
"I feel that their interest is sincere," Axelrod said. "Ours certainly is. This is a guy who would be a bargain. He's willing to sign a one-year contract for less than he made last year and take a bunch of incentives in case he performs."
In short, he could be the Dwight Evans of 1992. The Orioles took a chance on Evans last December after a back injury limited him to designated-hitter duty in 1990. He signed a modest one-year contract and performed well enough to rate a return engagement this year.
Sutcliffe, 35, made $2.176 million in the final year of a multi-year contract in 1991 but does not expect anyone to gamble that much on him next year.
An Orioles official confirmed the club's interest but would not discount questions about Sutcliffe's physical condition. He was one of the pitching workhorses of the 1980s and averaged 183 innings over the past 10 seasons, but has pitched sparingly since undergoing shoulder surgery in 1990.
The Cubs tried to re-sign him for the 1992 season, but decided not to take a chance on salary arbitration.
"I think everybody was assuming that he was going back to the Cubs," Axelrod said. "We were a little taken aback when they didn't."
The search for pitching help could go on for weeks, but the Orioles added some outfield depth yesterday when they selected Darrell Sherman, 24, from the San Diego Padres' Triple A roster in the Rule V draft of unprotected minor-league players.
Sherman batted .295 with 43 stolen bases last year for the Class AA Wichita Aeros, while having the lowest strikeout ratio (1 per 21.1 at-bats) of any Double A or Triple A player. He'll go into spring trainingas a candidate for the leadoff role, as will Orioles rookie Luis Mercedes.
"He's a speedster," Hemond said. "We wanted to add some speed. This will give us some depth and competition in the outfield."
The Orioles claimed Sherman for a $50,000 draft price and have to keep him on the 25-man major-league roster all season or offer him back to the Padres for $25,000. But with the Padres' roster heavy with outfielders, Orioles officials feel that they will be able to find a way to keep Sherman in their system even if not in the majors.
The draft gave, but it also took away. The Orioles lost catching prospect Todd Pratt to the Philadelphia Phillies weeks after signing him as a six-year minor-league free agent. The club left Pratt unprotected because it assumed that anyone willing to give him a shot at the major leagues would have tried harder to sign him. Chances are, he'll be offered back to the Orioles at the end of spring training.