Orioles in lull, for now

November 30, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The free-agent frenzy that gripped Baltimore during the first two weeks of November appears to have subsided, but that doesn't mean the new ownership group has lost any enthusiasm for the hunt.

"So far, we've gotten one of the two players we were interested in," managing general partner Peter Angelos said yesterday. "I don't think that there is any sense of disappointment at all."

The Orioles signed pitcher Sid Fernandez to a long-term contract Nov. 22, but their unsuccessful attempt to add free-agent first baseman Will Clark left room to wonder if the club was truly willing to go the distance to improve the offensive lineup.

Clark signed instead with the Texas Rangers, who offered a five-year, $30 million deal that the Orioles were unwilling to match. They will have to come up with a similar package to lure free agent Rafael Palmeiro -- who was thought to be their second choice -- so the possibility is very real that they will come up empty on both fronts.

Angelos isn't saying that the club will open the vault for Palmeiro, but he insists that the new ownership remains ready to make any reasonable expenditure to put the Orioles over the top in the American League East.

"If the appropriate arrangement or deal comes along, the resources are available," Angelos said. "Nothing has transpired over the last few weeks that would keep us from getting the appropriate player if that can be accomplished."

Palmeiro might command significantly more than the $27.5 million that Clark turned down in Baltimore, but the Orioles might be more comfortable with a player who has appeared in at least 152 games in each of his past six seasons. Clark's offensive numbers had declined the past two seasons. Palmeiro is coming off a career year in which he hit 37 home runs and had 105 RBIs.

General manager Roland Hemond remains in touch with agent Jim Bronner, who represents Palmeiro, but negotiations have not been as intense as those that nearly put Clark in the Orioles lineup. The Orioles seem hesitant to do or say anything that would raise fans' expectations after last week's letdown.

There are several other possible explanations for the lull. The sense of urgency that accompanied the negotiations with Clark was at least partly a result of the competition that developed between the Orioles and the Rangers for his services. There also developed something of a competition between Clark and Palmeiro, who didn't figure to find more than a handful of teams willing to spend $30 million in a very uncertain financial environment.

Now that Clark and the Rangers are out of the picture, the Orioles may be in a position to wait a week and save a second-round draft choice.

The Rangers still retain the right to draft-choice compensation if Palmeiro signs with another club, but they would lose that right if they fail to offer him salary arbitration by the Dec. 7 deadline. Now that they have Clark under contract, they may choose not to offer to go to arbitration with Palmeiro, so it might save the Orioles a decent amateur prospect to wait.

The Orioles continue to work on several fronts. Free-agent first baseman Eddie Murray remains a possibility, though sources indicate that Angelos may be the only member of the front office decision-making body that favors a return engagement for the former Orioles offensive leader.

Murray would bulk up the offensive lineup at first or in a designated hitter role, but he would be returning to a city that has not forgotten his angry departure five years ago.

There also had been a great deal of trade speculation, but reports that the Orioles were working on possible deals for several front-line starting pitchers may have been overstated.

The team does not appear to be close to acquiring either Pete Harnisch or Andy Benes.

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