If at first you don't, better get Palmeiro

November 23, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Peter Angelos can't be faulted for refusing to give Will Clark $30 million for five years. But now that Clark is heading to Texas, Angelos is obligated to sign Rafael Palmeiro.

The other first-base option is Eddie Murray, and though he's a favorite of the new owner, he won't be good enough. Reacquiring former heroes on the cheap -- that was the strategy under Eli Jacobs.

Is this a new era, or not?

You couldn't tell from the mood of several bleary-eyed club officials yesterday, even as the Orioles took a step forward by signing free-agent left-hander Sid Fernandez.

The two-day Clark negotiations lasted until 1:30 a.m. yesterday, but Angelos -- the owner/club president/GM -- wouldn't raise the club's offer from $27.5 million.

That's obviously his prerogative, and maybe even the correct decision, considering Clark's sagging production and recent injury problems.

But now the plot thickens.

It's Palmeiro or bust.

As Angelos surely is learning, every off-season transaction impacts another. Palmeiro's price could drop now that he was spurned by his own team. It had better, or the Orioles will be in a bind.

Palmeiro was Plan B, so how can the Orioles offer him more money than they offered Clark? In theory, Angelos could come out a winner, if he gets Palmeiro below market value. But how likely is that?

The Orioles appear to be the only team pursuing Palmeiro -- for now. Palmeiro's agent, Jim Bronner, has a knack for stirring interest in his clients. As the Clark negotiations showed, all it takes is one team to ruin your best-laid plans.

Not to send anyone into a panic, but New York Yankees GM Gene Michael touched base with Bronner yesterday. The Yankees had been monitoring the Palmeiro negotiations, figuring would re-sign with Texas. Now, they might be interested.

The laid-back Palmeiro might not want to play in New York. He might not want to move to the outfield for two years until Don Mattingly's contract expires. And he might not be attractive to the suddenly cost-conscious George Steinbrenner unless the Yankees could trade Danny Tartabull.

But you're getting the picture.

The Orioles and Palmeiro are no lock.

Again, maybe Angelos would be wise to invest the club's money elsewhere, but we're all getting rather tired of a team that repeatedly comes close to major acquisitions, but never gets them done.

The goal supposedly is to add two hitters (Palmeiro? Bobby Bonilla?) and two pitchers (Fernandez and another starter?). Yes, Murray drove in 100 runs for the last-place Mets last season. But someone tell Angelos quick -- the Frown Prince is a stiff in the field and a cancer in the clubhouse.

Fernandez, Murray, Bonilla -- why not add Vince Coleman, Bret Saberhagen and the rest of the Firecracker Gang as well? Murray, 37, is eight years older than Palmeiro, and probably will be tens of millions cheaper.

But who'd help more next year?

Palmeiro.

Who'd help more in five years?

Palmeiro.

The problem is, Roland Hemond apparently is the only member of the front office in direct contact with Angelos -- and standing up to the boss is not Hemond's forte. Assistant GMs Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin remain in limbo, so they obviously aren't getting a word in edgewise.

All would not be lost if Palmeiro slips away -- the Orioles still could trade for Bonilla, then pursue free-agent third baseman Chris Sabo. Of course, they'd still need another pitcher. Ideally, Fernandez will be their No. 4 starter, not their No. 3.

Andy Benes, 26, is a worthy target, but the odds of getting him aren't good. Padres GM Randy Smith says he won't trade Benes unless he's "overwhelmed" by another club's offer. Besides, it would be nearly impossible to acquire Benes and Bonilla -- the same prospects likely would be involved in both deals.

That's why signing a first baseman is such a high priority -- the other free-agent pickings are slim, and blockbuster trades are difficult to pull off. Clark would have been a starting point. But Palmeiro can fill the same void, even if he proves less of an impact player.

The question now is, will Angelos respond? He probably was surprised by yesterday's turn of events, believing -- not unreasonably -- that Clark's agent, Jeff Moorad, was bluffing about Texas. It won't be the last time the game jolts him. But let it serve as a painful first lesson.

Angelos controlled the Clark negotiations, from beginning to end. Stopping at $27.5 million was hardly a sign of weakness, but it cost him his position of strength -- and now, it might be difficult to gain back.

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