Orioles can't ignore dearth of infield depth

BASEBALL

December 05, 1993|By JIM HENNEMAN

All of the Orioles' attention during this off-season, at least publicly, has been focused on adding another hitter and improving their pitching depth. But there is another area that also needs to be addressed before spring training.

The departure of Mike Pagliarulo, who took a megabucks offer to play in Japan, and the presumed departure of Harold Reynolds leaves the Orioles' glaringly short of infielders. Counting Mark McLemore, who spent most of last year in right field, and Manny Alexander, a solid prospect who could use another year in Triple-A, the Orioles have only three middle infielders on their major-league roster.

The numbers suggest that is an area the Orioles must fortify before spring training, which means Reynolds shouldn't be out of the picture. A year ago the Orioles dropped McLemore and Bill Ripken from the roster and invested $1 million more than what it would have cost for the pair ($1.7 million) to sign Reynolds.

Now, McLemore is projected as the regular second baseman with utility man Tim Hulett the only experienced backup at that position as well as third base, where Leo Gomez has re-emerged the incumbent. There isn't much infield depth in the minor-league system, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Orioles make a move or two in this area.

Because of a weak wrist and bat, 1993 was a lost year for Gomez, who still has 20-25 home-run potential but has to prove himself again. And McLemore, who is coming off a career season, hasn't played a full year at second base in the big leagues since 1987, when he hit .236 as a California Angels rookie.

The Orioles are not believed to have interest in Chris Sabo, Cincinnati's free-agent third baseman whose back is suspect. But they may be in the market for a third baseman if the right deal presents itself if for no other reason than shortstop is their only set infield position.

Houston is said to have Ken Caminiti, a switch-hitter, on the market. But the Orioles, in talks about right-hander Pete Harnisch, have had trouble finding a fit with the Astros.

Danny "Dangerfield" Tartabull

For someone who has hit 86 home runs and driven in 287 runs during the past three years, Danny Tartabull makes Rodney Dangerfield look like the most respected guy in New York. Trying to find a way to fit Rafael Palmeiro into their bulging salary budget, the Yankees are trying to unload Tartabull and his $5 million contract, which has three years remaining.

The Yankees apparently are disenchanted enough with Tartabull trade him for prospects, but without any success.

Even though Tartabull has made Camden Yards look like a bandbox on a few occasions, the Orioles are among the many teams that haven't expressed interest.

Tigers and Palmeiro?

The Tigers could be a late entry in the Palmeiro sweepstakes -- but only if they can trade ex-Oriole Mickey Tettleton, who is going into the last season of a three-year, $8.5 million contract.

Tettleton spent most of his time as an outfielder or designated hitter last year, and manager Sparky Anderson would have a tough time finding enough at-bats for him with Palmeiro and Cecil Fielder also in the lineup.

Heating up

Free-agent activity figures to pick up after Tuesday's deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their players who have filed. Palmeiro's agent, Jim Bronner, hasn't tried to set up any meetings for his client, and other interested teams, including the Orioles, are waiting to see if the Texas Rangers offer arbitration.

There are several other players in the same situation. If their former teams do not offer arbitration, then the signing team is not obligated to give up a draft choice in return.

The next key date is Dec. 20. That's when contracts must be tendered, and the free-agent market is expected to be glutted as teams decide not to tender many high-salaried, arbitration-eligible players.

What's Will worth?

The actual worth of the contract Will Clark signed with the Rangers depends on which version you want to accept. The first baseman who bumped Palmeiro out of Texas will receive $30 million for playing the next five years.

However, $10 million of that money will be paid over a five-year period after the contract expires, according to the Players Association, which puts the value of the contract at $26.5 million. The Player Relations Committee, baseball's management arm, places the value at $27.5 million, which reportedly was as high as the Orioles were willing to go. The values of the contract vary because of the different methods the groups use to estimate the money needed to fund a contract.

Clark gets a $2 million signing bonus, the same amount in salary next year, a hedge against a possible strike, and $4 million in each of the following four seasons. The deferred money is to be paid at a rate of $2 million per year for five years.

The kicker to the deal is that Texas does not have a state income tax -- an annual difference between the offers from the Orioles and Rangers that is estimated at $500,000.

Cepeda for Hall, cont.

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