While Orioles go shopping Blue Jays charge up lineup Toronto re-signs Carter, then adds Molitor as well

December 08, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If the Orioles had reason to hope that the Toronto Blue Jays would be a little more beatable in 1993, they found out differently last night.

The Blue Jays, who were in danger of losing several marquee players to free agency, took the offensive at baseball's winter meetings with the re-signing of Joe Carter and the surprising acquisition of free-agent infielder Paul Molitor.

The club also offered arbitration to free-agent pitchers David Cone, Tom Henke and Jimmy Key.

Carter was rumored to be headed for Kansas City, but he agreed to a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year that could be worth $25 million if he remains all four seasons. Molitor also signed a three-year contract with an option for a guaranteed million.

The return of Carter ended speculation that the Toronto lineup would be gutted by free agency, but it was overshadowed by the Molitor deal, which delivered a double-barreled blow to a Milwaukee Brewers club that had nearly overtaken the Blue Jays at the end of the 1993 season.

"We're really happy to have Paul on our ballclub," said manager Cito Gaston. "This is the one guy in the 11 years I've been here that we've really had trouble getting out. I'm just happy we won't have to be facing him anymore."

The Brewers had spent the day deciding whether to offer Molitor arbitration, and there had been strong speculation that they would let him go.

The club finally decided to offer arbitration late last night, but it was too late.

"I was as surprised as anyone that Milwaukee even offered arbitration," Molitor said by conference call from Wisconsin. "We were under the impression that arbitration wasn't a possibility."

His departure marks the end of an era in Milwaukee, where he has been teamed with Robin Yount for the past 15 years.

Molitor, 36, has been one of the best players in the league since he broke in as a second-year professional in 1978. He has batted .300 or better eight times and hit .320 with 12 homers and 89 RBI last year.

"I can't tell you how difficult it was to leave Milwaukee," he said. "You play 15 years and the relationships you establish -- a big part of my life is here.

"There was no question in my mind when the season ended that I was going to be back, but as the talks progressed I became more open to leaving."

Molitor's arrival in Toronto may hasten the departure of veteran outfielder Dave Winfield, whose 26-homer, 108-RBI performance helped lead the Blue Jays to the world championship. Winfield remains unsigned, and now there is less urgency to meet his asking price.

"We haven't completely shut Winfield out," Gaston said.

Gaston said that Molitor will play in the outfield, which would appear to be a further indication that Winfield will not be back.

The Blue Jays just put Carter back in right field and have Devon White in center. They also have promising Derek Bell in the wings, so it probably would not be practical to spend what it will take to re-sign Winfield.

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