Orioles make pitch for Benes or Harnisch

November 24, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Big game free-agent hunting could be over for the Orioles, but it's still open season on the trade market. And the rumor mill never stops grinding.

Shut out in their effort to obtain Will Clark, and uncertain of the stakes in their pursuit of Rafael Palmeiro, the Orioles ap

pear intent on building a starting rotation that could be as formidable as any in baseball. That effort didn't end with the signing of free-agent left-hander Sid Fernandez two days ago.

Sources said yesterday that the Orioles are close to completing a deal for either of two right-handers -- Pete Harnisch of the Houston Astros or Andy Benes of the San Diego Padres. However, this is not the first time these reports have surfaced, and apparently some stumbling blocks remain.

In each case, top shortstop prospect Manny Alexander is considered a key player. Left-handers Arthur Rhodes and Brad Pennington and outfielder Damon Buford are others who interest the Padres. San Diego general manager Randy Smith, who has indicated it will take three or four players to get Benes, reiterated yesterday that he has not seen an offer he couldn't refuse.

A trade for Harnisch, one of three ex-Orioles dealt for Glenn Davis, would seem to be more complicated and could evolve into a multi-player transaction.

Orioles general manager Roland Hemond has acknowledged talking to the Astros and Padres, but wouldn't discuss names.

"I haven't talked to [Astros GM] Bob Watson today and don't expect to hear back from Randy Smith," Hemond said before leaving his office last night.

For the second straight day, Smith strongly denied he was close to making a trade with the Orioles. "Our position hasn't changed," he said. "Baltimore is a first-class organization and Roland is very first-class, but this is a guy [Benes] we're not interested in moving."

Smith said Monday that the Orioles "had interest in Benes and were trying to put together something that makes sense for both clubs, but we'd have to be overwhelmed -- and we haven't been yet."

Watson reportedly was in meetings all day yesterday and unavailable for comment. But he hinted the day before that the Astros had a couple of possible deals in the works.

Watson told the New York Post he was "very close" to doing something with the New York Yankees, who have interest in Harnisch and reliever Xavier Hernandez.

"I'm sure the Yankees are feeling the pressure of one of their contenders [the Orioles] signing Fernandez," Watson told the Post. "I can sit here and apply the pressure. We can do a trade for one [player] or [something] more significant."

With the Yankees and Orioles interested in Harnisch (and/or Hernandez), Watson is in a strong position. That he told members of the Astros staff yesterday that he expected to be "behind closed doors" the rest of the week further aroused suspicion hewas ready to deal.

But Watson, already having lost right-hander Mark Portugal to free agency, has said three times in the past two weeks that the Astros "cannot trade Harnisch."

In the meantime, the Orioles have not given up on the possibility of signing first baseman Palmeiro, even though his asking price is expected at least to match the $30 million, five-year contract Clark signed with the Texas Rangers. Palmeiro was clearly upset that his former team signed Clark without making him a second (( offer.

Peter Angelos, the Orioles new owner, participated in the second round of negotiations with Clark, and said he has hopes of signing Palmeiro. But he also indicated that the $27.5 million offer that Clark turned down could be the Orioles' limit.

"I don't know, it depends," Angelos said when asked if he'd go any higher for Palmeiro. "His stats are very impressive. But the numbers have to be right.

"Hopefully, he will want to be vindicated. Maybe he'll want to hit home runs at Camden Yards. We'll make every effort to convince him that this is the place for him to play."

Jim Bronner, Palmeiro's agent, moved from New York to Boston yesterday, trying the sell the Red Sox on the idea of Palmeiro as a right fielder. But Boston has little interest. "The price tag is just too high," Red Sox vice president Lou Gorman told The Dallas Morning News.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner discussed Palmeiro on WFAN radio yesterday. He said he "liked the concept, [but] doesn't like the figures."

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