Orioles pursuing Baines 'big time'

KEN ROSENTHAL

January 12, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond hasn't given up on his infatuation with Harold Baines. An Oakland Athletics official said yesterday that the Orioles are showing "big-time interest" in Baines, and added that a trade "could happen any time this week."

Hello, left-handed slugger?

Keep your fingers crossed.

First, the Orioles apparently must reach contract terms with Baines, who earned $1.58 million last season. Then, they must finalize the package of minor-league players they will send the A's, who seem unwilling to go to salary arbitration with the veteran designated hitter.

Baines, who turns 34 in March, has yet to sign a 1993 contract after accepting arbitration and forfeiting his free agency. The Orioles expressed interest in him as a free agent last month, but backed off rather than lose a first-round draft pick as compensation for signing him.

Hemond refused to comment on Baines, but Mike Powers, the agent for unemployed first baseman Randy Milligan, said the general manager told him Thursday that he needed "a couple of more days" before the two could discuss Milligan.

Presumably, Hemond is waiting on the outcome of the Baines talks -- he said Milligan is on the back burner until "we see what materializes with things we're trying to do." Powers, meanwhile, said the Orioles "haven't made any offer of any magnitude" to Milligan.

A trade almost certainly would end any chance of Milligan and designated hitter Sam Horn re-signing with the club. It also would be an indication of the club's growing confidence that Glenn Davis will be able to play first base this season.

Davis told Hemond over lunch last week that he is intent on returning to first, where he started only two games because of injuries last year. "He was encouraged and pleased with his progress," Hemond said. "He seemed very positive."

Davis has since returned to New Orleans for his second one-week session with Mackie Shilstone, the strength and conditioning coach for heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. But the Orioles believe Baines would be a useful addition even if Davis was again unable to play the field.

Baines, a native of Easton, would serve as a left-handed DH, part-time right fielder and pinch hitter. If Davis again got hurt, Baines would be the full-time DH, and David Segui would be the full-time first baseman.

Thus, Baines represents a multiple insurance policy -- not just for Davis, but also for Segui and right-field candidates Luis Mercedes and Chito Martinez. Indeed, he'd be a viable alternative if one of those younger players was a bust.

The question is, why invest approximately $2 million in a player who has undergone three operations on his right knee since 1986, a player who appeared only 19 times in the outfield last season?

Because Baines still can hit.

His 166 RBI the past two seasons are more than any Oriole except Cal Ripken. He went 11-for-25 (.440) with a game-winning homer off Jack Morris in the American League playoffs. And, for all his knee troubles, he has appeared in at least 132 games in each of the past 11 seasons.

The Orioles probably wouldn't use him often in right field, but Baines has soft hands and good instincts at that position. His limited range could be overcome by playing him in ballparks with short right-field porches -- Tiger Stadium, for one, and, of course, Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

To Oakland, he's expendable because of his age, health and salary. The A's want to reduce their payroll after signing Ruben Sierra and Mark McGwire to five-year contracts worth a combined $56 million. That's probably why they're willing to accept minor-leaguers in return.

Frankly, the Orioles have nothing else to trade after trimming 11 players from their roster in the past four months. But, if they added Baines, their only remaining needs would be a fifth starting pitcher and bullpen depth.

That's why the deal makes so much sense. Left-handed hitters accounted for only 35 of the Orioles' 148 home runs last season (24 percent). Twenty-one of those came from Brady Anderson, who had a career year.

Hemond selected Baines with the first pick of the 1977 amateur draft while general manager of the Chicago White Sox. After joining the Orioles, he tried to acquire him from the White Sox in 1989. Nearly four years later, he might finally get the reunion he desires.

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