Orioles aggressively pursuing Whitaker 2nd baseman from Va. awaits Tigers' move

December 02, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles apparently are making a strong attempt to add veteran second baseman Lou Whitaker to their 1993 lineup, although he still appears more likely to finish his career with the Detroit Tigers.

"We are making a conscientious effort to sign him," manager Johnny Oates said yesterday. "Larry [Lucchino, club president] promised to be aggressive this off-season, and, in this situation, I feel he is being aggressive."

Whitaker, 35, has spent his entire 15-year major-league career in Detroit, but his agent has indicated that two other teams -- believed to be the Orioles and Atlanta Braves -- have been more aggressive than the Tigers in attempting to sign him.

"There is definite interest in Lou," agent Rick Brode told the Detroit Free Press this week. Brode did not name the Orioles, but Oates confirmed that they have put together a contract proposal to bring Whitaker to Baltimore.

General manager Roland Hemond was more guarded on the subject, but he also confirmed that talks have taken place.

"We have expressed interest," Hemond said, "but nothing has transpired. That's about all I have to say."

Why would the Orioles want to sign an aging second baseman when they appeared to be satisfied with the production from the second-base platoon of Bill Ripken and Mark McLemore last season?

Because Whitaker has averaged 20 home runs a year the past eight seasons and could bolster an inconsistent lineup. Because he's a productive No. 2 hitter who bats from the left side and who ranked eighth in the American League in on-base percentage last year. Because he would add balance and continuity to an Orioles batting order that lacked both in 1992.

"He's a guy that fits," Oates said. "He is a left-handed hitter who could possibly hit some home runs in our ballpark. He is one of the people that we are interested in."

Why would Whitaker want to sign with the Orioles? Because he grew up in Martinsville, Va., and has expressed the desire to play closer to that area. If he leaves the Tigers, it appears that the Orioles would be his next choice.

"Geography, in one way, is a factor," Brode said, "but there also is the factor that Lou is interested in playing for a contender that has the opportunity to go to the World Series, for a team that is in a situation where he would be kind of a missing link that could take a team to the next step."

If that has a familiar ring to it, it is because that is almost exactly the reasoning pitcher Rick Sutcliffe gave for signing with the Orioles a year ago.

The concept does not fit perfectly with the club's youth-oriented philosophy, but neither did Sutcliffe, who was expected to re-sign with the Chicago Cubs last year until he bolted to become a major factor in the Orioles' dramatic turnaround. Club officials saw the positive influence that Sutcliffe had on the young pitching staff and apparently hope that Whitaker could add stability to the youthful starting lineup.

Whitaker, who earned $2.2 million last year, is believed to be seeking a multi-year deal at a salary at least equal to what he made in 1992, when he batted .278 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI. That would place him third on the Orioles salary list, behind Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis.

The big question is whether Whitaker is serious about leaving the Tigers, but the situation could become much clearer Monday -- the deadline for the Tigers to offer him salary arbitration. The club must offer arbitration on that date or be prohibited from signing Whitaker until May 1.

That date also is important to the other teams interested in signing him. If the Tigers do not offer arbitration, then the team that signs him will not have to give up a pick (a first-round pick in the case of the Orioles) in the June amateur draft.

It is an important consideration for the Orioles, who have built a contending team with the help of recent first-round draft choices Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina. They again came away with one of the best college players in the nation this year when they selected and signed Stanford outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

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