Orioles invite Valenzuela back

December 08, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles have never held the salary arbitration process in high regard, but yesterday the club decided to offer arbitration to veteran left-hander Fernando Valenzuela.

Valenzuela, who is expected to reject the offer, was the only Orioles player affected by yesterday's deadline for offering salary arbitration to free-agent players. The team already had declined arbitration with four other veteran players -- Mike Pagliarulo, Rick Sutcliffe, Harold Reynolds and Lonnie Smith -- and was expected to do the same with Valenzuela.

General manager Roland Hemond gave every indication Monday that he would inform Valenzuela that the Orioles would not offer arbitration, but he apparently had a change of heart overnight.

"Last night, I didn't think so," Hemond said, "but this gives us a longer period to see how our pitching staff shapes up."

The Texas Rangers know how their first-base situation shapes up, thanks to Will Clark, so they decided not to offer arbitration to Rafael Palmeiro.

Although the move could draw more clubs into the bidding, because draft-choice compensation no longer will be required, a club source last night said the Orioles remain confident they can sign Palmeiro, who hit .295 with 37 homers and 105 RBIs last season.

Under the rules of the soon-to-expire labor agreement, teams had to offer arbitration to their free agents by yesterday or lose the right to sign them until May 1. Valenzuela has 12 days to decide whether to accept the offer, which would bind him to the Orioles for the 1994 season. If he declines, the club can continue to negotiate with him until Jan. 8.

Agent Tony DeMarco, who represents Valenzuela along with attorney Dick Moss, indicated yesterday that the pitcher likely will decline. DeMarco says there are five clubs (including the Orioles) who have expressed interest in signing the veteran left-hander, who came back after a two-year hiatus to go 8-10 with a 4.94 ERA for the Orioles.

"We probably won't accept it," DeMarco said of the offer by the Orioles, who paid Valenzuela a base salary of $250,000 plus incentives last season. "We want to leave our options open. Fernando came back and pitched well, and we think after he has the opportunity to rest, he'll be ready to have a good season."

Valenzuela, 33, pitched very well during the first half of the season -- so well in July, in fact, that he was named AL Pitcher of the Month. He faded badly down the stretch, but there was reason to believe his decline was the result of fatigue. He joined the Orioles last spring after pitching 260 innings in the Mexican summer and winter leagues.

He did not put up great overall numbers in his comeback season, but he did make 31 starts and pitched 178 2/3 innings to prove that his arm was sound.

"Our purpose is to get Fernando into a good situation and a good contract so he can build on last year," DeMarco said. "If we sign with the Orioles, it will be because we were able to come to an agreement that is suitable for both sides without the necessity of arbitration."

There has been speculation that Valenzuela might sign with a team closer to his Los Angeles home, but DeMarco said geography was not a serious consideration.

"I think the main thing he wants is somebody who really wants him -- somebody who will give him the chance to make a real contribution," DeMarco said.

Perhaps Valenzuela recognizes that his chances of holding a regular place in the Orioles' rotation diminished when the club signed free-agent left-hander Sid Fernandez.

Fernandez, Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald will go into spring training assured of their places in the rotation. If Valenzuela remains with the club, he would have to compete with left-handers Jamie Moyer and Arthur Rhodes for a starting spot.

"It's early enough in the game not to rush into anything," DeMarco said. "I don't think that the Orioles are even sure what they want to do. I think we can afford to be patient."

The Orioles have been patient with Palmeiro, perhaps because with Clark in Texas, Eddie Murray in Cleveland and Andres Galarraga re-signed in Colorado, there aren't that many clubs looking for a first baseman. But now, with the danger of losing a high draft choice removed, at least one more club appears ready to enter the picture.

There was a report out of New York that Palmeiro's agent, Jim Bronner, called the New York Mets front office after he was informed of the Rangers' decision. The Mets said they "would let me know something in the next couple days," Bronner told The New York Times.

Though the first-base hunt continues, the Orioles apparently will stand pat at third, even though the Cincinnati Reds failed to offer salary arbitration to free agent Chris Sabo.

Manager Johnny Oates said on a nationwide conference call yesterday that the club would go to spring training with Leo Gomez as the projected starter at that position.

The Orioles came up short in their attempt to re-sign Pagliarulo, leaving room to wonder if they would shift their focus to other free-agent possibilities.

"As we talk now, I don't think so," Oates said. "Leo Gomez has been playing well in Puerto Rico, and Tim Hulett played almost full-time there last year."

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