Orioles go shopping, but expect no bargains

December 04, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Orioles front-office officials will head to the winter meetings today hoping to find help in a number of areas, but it seems highly unlikely they will find anything but free-agent gridlock when they get to Louisville, Ky., for baseball's annual trading convention.

General manager Roland Hemond tried to sound optimistic about the five-day player personnel hunt, but a glutted &r free-agent market and a variety of major issues facing baseball ownership figure to push trade talks into the background.

Nevertheless, an Orioles contingent that also includes club president Larry Lucchino and assistant GMs Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin will canvass the other major-league organizations in an effort to improve the club.

"We're finding it more difficult to get the attention of clubs to talk about trades," Hemond said, "but you don't discount the possibility. It certainly looks like it will be a convention where there will be a lot of representatives of players around."

The Orioles already have been talking to some of those. Hemond again confirmed talks with the agent for veteran second baseman Lou Whitaker, but he indicated it was not likely the club would attempt to sign a high-profile outfielder to fill the run-production gap in right field.

If that is true, then it appears likely the club will do for promising outfielder Luis Mercedes what it did for Brady Anderson last spring -- hand him the job and hope another star is born. Chito Martinez also remains in the picture, though he did not respond well to limited playing time last season.

"One thing I've found is, if you don't give young players an opportunity, they never make it," Hemond said. "Chito jammed his shoulder last spring and did not get off to a good start, but he is capable of hitting 20 home runs. Mercedes has led the league in hitting everywhere he has been. There is a possibility that we'll go with those two youngsters."

There is very little possibility the Orioles suddenly will throw open the vault for a Kirby Puckett or a Barry Bonds, though a player of that magnitude would put them in position to make a very strong run at the American League East title.

Hemond said the club's emphasis during the meetings would be on adding some offensive punch and beefing up the club's pitching depth.

The acquisition of Whitaker -- though something of a long shot -- would go a long way toward solidifying the offensive lineup. He is a strong No. 2 hitter who ranked eighth in the American League in on-base percentage last year and who has averaged 20 home runs during the past eight seasons.

Pitching always is a priority, but the emphasis has diminished significantly since last year. The recent re-signing of Rick Sutcliffe left the Orioles with just one hole to fill in a starting rotation that appears to be developing into one of the best in the league. The club could use another left-hander in the bullpen, but relief depth also is not a serious problem. That's why a major pitching acquisition would come as a surprise.

The Orioles still are talking to left-hander Craig Lefferts, but the club does not seem motivated to spend what it would take to bring him back. Hemond would say only that he was still in touch with agent Steve Comte, who said he spoke with Orioles officials last week.

"Like everyone else, the Orioles and Craig and I are trying to find an appropriate market value," Comte said. "It's a matter of the values that are going to accompany players in this market. We expected [Greg] Maddux and [Doug] Drabek and [David] Cone to be the premier pitchers. In Craig's case, we're realistic and realize that he is in a little different segment that has to be defined."

Right-hander Storm Davis, who also became a free agent at the end of the 1992 season, appears more likely to return, though he'll have to step well back from the $2.4 million salary he earned last season.

Hemond would love to pull off a deal to bring in a versatile #F pitcher who could both start and relieve, but the art of the deal is becoming a lost art at the winter meetings. The Orioles will arrive there today, but if they want to get anything done, they had better bring some money.

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