Dreams of pennant have O's stargazing

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 11, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Imagine a lineup with Bobby Bonilla and Rafael Palmeiro attacking the right-field wall at Camden Yards. The Orioles can, and their fantasy is just as compelling when they replace Palmeiro with Will Clark.

Such is the wonderfully frenzied state of affairs under new owner Peter Angelos. The Orioles are pursuing anyone and everyone, and the slugging, switch-hitting Bonilla is their latest target.

Here's the amazing part: The Orioles want to acquire Bonilla to play right field in addition to signing a free-agent first baseman. And, even if they absorb those two huge salaries, they apparently would pursue starting pitching as well.

New York Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine yesterday confirmed the Orioles' interest in Bonilla. The talks began during the American League East pennant race, resumed last week at the general managers' meetings, and continued with phone conversations each of the past two days.

"He's been discussed, but it hasn't just been about him, it's been about other players as well," McIlvaine said from his New York office. "[But] his name has come up. I can't deny that."

Orioles GM Roland Hemond said: "I can't deny we've talked, and have had continued discussions. But it's too early to predict anything."

The same, of course, is true with Palmeiro and Clark, but the Orioles remain active with the agents for both players. Without question, the acquisitions of Bonilla and a left-handed power hitter at first base would give them a fearsome lineup, especially against right-handed pitching.

Bonilla, 30, batted .265 with 34 homers and 87 RBIs last season. He can play first base and third as well the outfield, but defense is not his forte. Attitude? It became an issue only after he left Pittsburgh to play in his native New York.

So, what do the last-place Mets want?

"A whole new team," McIlvaine joked.

Actually, McIlvaine said, the Mets are trying to reconstruct an infield in which second baseman Jeff Kent is the only certain starter. They need a first baseman to replace Eddie Murray, plus a shortstop and third baseman.

The Orioles could offer David Segui or Paul Carey at first, Manny Alexander at short and Leo Gomez at third, although they probably would prefer to make the deal without including Alexander. The Mets probably don't want Mike Devereaux at $3 million; they no doubt would inquire about left-hander Arthur Rhodes.

"I'm open to anyone that wants to discuss him [Bonilla]," McIlvaine said. "I'm not in a mode where I have to trade him. But I finished last with him. If I can get three players who will make us better, I have to listen."

The talks apparently are not at the point where the clubs are exchanging names. If the Orioles get Bonilla, they'd be more likely to trade Devereaux, assuming Jeffrey Hammonds is healthy. If no deal is made, they'd probably keep their outfield intact.

Two years ago, the Mets signed Bonilla to a five-year, $29 million contract, then the richest in baseball history. The contract, however, was "front-loaded," meaning Bonilla earned nearly half his money in his first two seasons.

Bonilla is guaranteed $15.1 over the next three years -- $5.7 million in 1994, $4.7 million in '95 and $4.7 million in '96. Meanwhile, it probably would take $30 million to sign Palmeiro or Clark.

Club officials remain split over which first baseman would be more valuable. Clark is the fiery leader the Orioles need, but questions persist about his physical condition. Palmeiro is durable and one of the game's most dangerous hitters, yet Texas seems willing to lose him.

If nothing else, it appears the Orioles will get a crack at both players. The Rangers haven't negotiated with Palmeiro since he rejected a five-year, $25 million offer on Oct. 21. They further insulted him this week by entertaining a visit from Clark, his old college rival from Mississippi State.

Apparently, some Rangers officials believe Palmeiro doesn't merit a huge contract, even after a 37-homer, 105-RBI season. The rap is that he's "soft" -- Palmeiro hit .150 with runners in scoring position after Aug. 3, and .248 overall in September-October, compared to Clark's .379.

Surely, the Orioles could use either player. Imagine this batting order against right-handed pitching: Brady Anderson, Mark McLemore, Palmeiro or Clark, Bonilla and Harold Baines. All are left-handed or switch-hitters. Cal Ripken would bat sixth -- maybe seventh, behind Chris Hoiles.

It's too early to plan on such a thing, but Hemond clearly is excited by the new possibilities. "You wake up in the morning, you're raring to go and you hate to go to bed at night," he said.

At a time like this, who can sleep?

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