Meetings leave O's with empty feeling Free-agent shutout depresses Hemond

December 10, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Orioles general manager Roland Hemon headed home from the winter meetings yesterday with nothing to show for his four-day quest to improve the club's chances of winning the American League East in 1993.

The Toronto Blue Jays signed Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart and re-signed Joe Carter.

The Boston Red Sox signed Andre Dawson and acquired Ivan Calderon.

The New York Yankees acquired left-handed ace Jim Abbott.

The Detroit Tigers signed 17-game winner Mike Moore and re-signed Lou Whitaker.

Even the youth-oriented Cleveland Indians shored up their pitching staff with the acquisition of free-agent pitcher Bob Ojeda.

Hemond has not given up hope, but the free-agent talent glut and the difficulty setting up meetings with other clubs left him admittedly frustrated and disappointed.

"Some clubs have indicated that they'll talk to us after they get home," he said, "so we don't discount the possibility of some action following the meetings, but I wouldn't say anything is imminent."

The other clubs were too busy setting up meetings with agents to discuss the dozens of quality free-agent players who have flooded the market this winter. The Orioles took a passing interest in second baseman Whitaker and outfielder Andre Dawson, but Whitaker went back to Detroit Monday and Dawson signed with Boston yesterday.

The winter meetings aren't what they used to be, which is particularly evident to an old-school baseball man such as Hemond, but they were not boring. The teams who didn't share the Orioles' reservations about free agency committed hundreds millions of dollars toward improving themselves.

The Orioles settled for a handful of minor transactions. They chose minor-league outfielder Sherman Obando in the Rule V draft and traded minor-league outfielder Rodney Lofton to the Cincinnati Reds for a pair of right-handed pitching prospects. The only announcement from the club yesterday was that Bob Miscik has been named to replace new Orioles coach Jerry Narron as manager at Triple-A Rochester this year.

Hemond has made a habit of pulling off at least one deal in every winter meetings, but the minor-league trade with the Reds was not exactly what he had in mind. It was kind of like Cal Ripken extending his playing streak with a pinch-hitting appearance.

"That just shows how much the meetings have changed," said Hemond, who likes to reminisce about the year when he and Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck put up an "Open for business" sign in the hotel lobby and traded half the team.

The Blue Jays just made him feel worse. Toronto general manager Pat Gillick wheeled and dealed throughout the meetings, hoping to offset the projected loss of several top-name free agents. He re-signed Carter and snatched Molitor from Milwaukee on Monday, then traded third baseman Kelly Gruber to make room on the payroll for Stewart on Tuesday.

Of course, the gains were offset by the loss of pitcher David Cone and the likelihood that Dave Winfield and Candy Maldonado will not be back, but the Blue Jays were pro-active and the Orioles were passive.

The Red Sox have a long way to come back from last year's last-place finish, but they took some big steps. They signed Dawson and traded for Calderon to beef up an inconsistent offense, following up on earlier moves that added infielder Scott Fletcher and pitcher Scott Bankhead. Boston GM Lou Gorman also is rumored to be close to signing free-agent stopper Tom Henke.

The Tigers also improved with the addition of Moore, but they still need pitching help to be competitive in an improving division. The Yankees improved with the addition of Abbott, but it remains to be seen whether they will come out ahead on the deal that sent outfielder Roberto Kelly to the Reds for Paul O'Neill. The youthful Indians also got better, but they remain an unknown quantity.

Perhaps it was small consolation, but the Milwaukee Brewers actually left the meetings worse off than they came. They lost Molitor to the Blue Jays and could lose more in the fallout from that deal. After the announcement, Brewers center fielder Robin Yount told reporters that he might rethink his decision to play next year with the club.

The Orioles do not figure to be shut out forever. The free-agent free-for-all will subside soon enough and there will be dozens of players left available. When the bargain-hunting begins in January, they might become the most active team in the division.

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