Clark, Palmeiro: Who's 1st on list? O's covet both, but Giant more of leader

November 19, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles have surveyed the winter landscape and weighed a number of possible acquisitions, but the most pressing personnel decision has not changed since Peter Angelos took over the club in early October.

The first possibilities Angelos mentioned were first basemen Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro, and they remain the focus of the Orioles' off-season talent hunt.

Which one would fit best into the Orioles lineup? Which one would be the best value for the money? Which one would be the easiest to sign?

Those are the questions that face club officials as they entertain Clark at Camden Yards today. He apparently is on the top of their wish list, but Palmeiro's credentials also are very impressive.

"I don't think you could go wrong with either one of them," manager Johnny Oates said. "I think either one would be an impact player who would be an asset to just about any team in the major leagues."

For the moment, however, the Orioles are focusing on Clark, whose hard-nosed personality would provide a nice counterpoint to the quiet leadership of shortstop Cal Ripken. Clark was scheduled to arrive in Baltimore last night with agent Jeff Moorad. They were expected to meet with Angelos last night and see Camden Yards and the downtown area this afternoon.

Clark, 29, is an eight-year veteran with some impressive career statistics. Injuries and inconsistency eroded his run production the past two years, but he recovered from a slow start to swing the bat very well during the final four months of the 1993 season. The Orioles had to be particularly impressed with the way he performed at crunch time, batting .463 over an 11-game span as the San Francisco Giants went down to the final game in a dramatic division race with Atlanta.

"From what I've seen, he's the exact type player that we're

looking for," Oates said. "He's a gung-ho leader. He's a vocal, intense, impact player. Will is the type of leader that I'm looking for."

The Orioles have been in contention each of the past two seasons, but both times they dropped off the pace in September. The club was not talented enough to compete with the world champion Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and wasn't healthy enough to stay in the race this year.

Still, there was room to speculate that an impact offensive player might have made a difference. Clark has been that type of player, and he would bring plenty of pennant race and postseason experience with him.

"He stepped up as he has time after time," said Moorad, who also represents Orioles Gregg Olson and Jeffrey Hammonds. ZTC "Even with a heavily braced knee, he showed the flair that he has shown throughout his career. I think that as long as he's healthy, he's going to continue to be one of the top players."

His health remains an issue, but his ability to overcome groin and knee injuries last year probably allayed fears that he might be another Glenn Davis-type gamble.

To ease that concern, Moorad took Clark's numbers from May 28 to the end of the season and projected them over a full (600 at-bat) season. He came up with a .318 season in which Clark would have had 191 hits, 24 homers and 101 RBIs.

Palmeiro's physical status has never been an issue. Palmeiro, also 29, has played in 152 games or more in each of the past six seasons and is coming off the best run-production year of his career. He batted .295 and reached career highs with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs, but his timing may have been too good for the Orioles.

He picked exactly the right time to have the best year of his life, so he may command the biggest contract of any player in this year's free-agent market. He reportedly has turned down a five-year offer from the Texas Rangers that would have paid him more than $5 million per year.

Club sources say Orioles management is concerned that the club may end up paying Palmeiro top dollar based on one career season that he might never duplicate. Clark, despite his statistical decline the past two years, has the longer track record and the fiery personality.

"Rafael Palmeiro is more of a laid-back player whose numbers do the talking," Oates said, "but I think those numbers would fit in very well with us, too."

Palmeiro has averaged 19 home runs and 81 RBIs during the six years he has been a full-time player. Clark has averaged 24 homers and 95 RBIs over the past seven seasons.

The Orioles remain in contact with Palmeiro's agent, Jim Bronner, but they have yet to make a significant move. They seem more likely to make a strong run at Clark during the next week, then regroup if he chooses to sign with the Texas Rangers or return to the Giants.

"There really isn't anything new," Bronner said. "We had a brief phone conversation the other day, but we didn't discuss dollars. They are supposed to get back to me."

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