SARASOTA, Fla. -- On the surface, it appears to be just another minor transaction. But the Orioles' acquisition of right-hander Alan Mills from the New York Yankees yesterday could be the forerunner to another trade.
With a two-paragraph statement, the Orioles announced they had obtained Mills, 25, for two minor-league players to be named. One of those players will come from the major-league roster.
The Yankees roster is at the 40-man limit, the reason Mills became available. He had been designated for assignment when the Yankees acquired Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Charlie Hayes.
The Yankees had until 2 p.m. yesterday to complete a deal for Mills, and they settled with the Orioles the night before. "We like his arm," general manager Roland Hemond said of Mills. "He has been used as both a starter and reliever, but we look at him right now as a reliever."
Mills has an option left, which means he could be sent to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, but Hemond said he had a chance to open the season with the Orioles. Since there isn't room in the bullpen, the strongest part of the staff last year, the Orioles could have another deal in the works.
"I'm out of here. It's the changing of the guard," said right-hander Mark Williamson, a pitcher often speculated to be on the block.
"You're bringing in another young reliever," Williamson chided pitching coach Dick Bosman.
Bosman replied, "You're not going anywhere."
The Yankees have been given a list of players from which they can choose and have until June 5 to make their selections. Yankees general manager Gene Michael said both players were minor-leaguers, but there is strong speculation that one of them is on the Orioles 40-man roster.
To make room for Mills, the Orioles had to make a move. They designated reliever Francisco de la Rosa for assignment. They have 10 days to either trade the right-hander or put him on waivers in the hope he can be sent outright to Rochester.
Two years ago, Mills was the most highly regarded prospect in the Yankees system, as he advanced rapidly from Class A to the major leagues. Orioles minor-league hitting instructor Wally Moon managed Mills in Prince William, Va., in 1987-88 and was instrumental in switching him from a starter to a reliever.
"I can tell you he has a quality arm and a very resilient arm," Moon said. "You don't find that kind of resiliency very often, so I think he's better suited for relief."
However, Mills did start 17 games last year, 15 for the Class AAA Columbus Clippers, for whom he was 7-5 with a 4.43 ERA. In his two starts with the Yankees, he was 1-1 with a 4.41 ERA. In 1990, he appeared only in relief, going 3-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 17 games at Columbus, and 1-5 with a 4.10 ERA in 36 games with the Yankees.
"He was a very good prospect -- and still is," Michael said from the Yankees training camp in Fort Lauderdale.
"Doug Melvin has been working on this since he [Mills] was designated for assignment," Hemond said. "We have good reports on him. We like his arm a lot."
Mills, who had been working out with the Yankees while awaiting his fate, said he was surprised that he was coming to the Orioles, but not that he was traded.
"Out of all the rumors I heard, I never heard Baltimore," Mills said. "I'm just glad to be going somewhere."
Reportedly, the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners had shown interest in the hard-throwing Mills. "We know the Yankees didn't want to let him go, but they were forced to make a move when they got Hayes," Melvin said.
The glowing reports out of the Yankees camp indicate this was not a minor trade, which means they won't take rejects in return. "I like Alan Mills," said New York pitching coach Mark Connor. "I like him as a pitcher. I like him as a person. He's still young, he throws in the 90s, and he has a hard slider. He should be a quality reliever in the major leagues for a long time to come. All he has to do is believe in himself."
Yankees manager Buck Showalter said: "The Orioles got a good pitcher. He's capable of pitching well at the major-league level. Whether it's this year or not, we'll have to wait and see."
Former Oriole John Habyan, who went to the Yankees in a similar kind of trade (for Stan Jefferson) three years ago and was one of the obstacles in Mills' path, had high praise for his ex-teammate.
"He throws gas," Habyan said. "He definitely has the arm. He's a good guy who works hard. I think this will be a great opportunity for him."
Mills, a former No. 1 pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 winter draft who didn't sign and eventually was drafted by the Angels, came to the Yankees in the 1987 trade that sent catcher Butch Wynegar to California.
Neither Hemond nor Melvin would speculate whether the trade is a forerunner to another deal, but the possibility exists. "It gives us more depth, more flexibility," Melvin said.
Mills reportedly throws in excess of 90 mph; his drawback is control.
"It's not that he's extremely wild," Melvin said, "but walks have hurt him in the past."
The Orioles are hoping that with his role more clearly defined as a reliever, Mills will develop rapidly. And if he does, the Orioles will have to find a way to make room for him.
"I'll start finding out about him tomorrow [today]," said Orioles manager John Oates. "I've only seen him in two games he pitched against us in spring training last year. It looked to me like he had a real good fastball and trouble with his breaking pitch."
Mills, who lives in nearby Lakeland, stopped at his home en route to the Orioles camp last night and is scheduled to be in uniform for today's workout.