Free agents Eichhorn, Gedman join O's make-over

December 15, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Orioles' front office continues to forge ahead with a wide-ranging improvement program, though the club probably won't be able to top the acquisitions of free agents Sid Fernandez and Rafael Palmeiro.

Two more free-agent contracts were finalized yesterday. Right-handed reliever Mark Eichhorn and veteran catcher Rich Gedman agreed to minor-league contracts and will report to spring training with the major-league team.

Eichhorn, 33, is a nine-year veteran who has pitched for three major-league clubs, most recently with the two-time world champion Toronto Blue Jays. He was 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA in 54 games last year and has a solid 2.99 career ERA in 496 lifetime appearances.

The Orioles acquired him to provide depth in a bullpen that likely will open spring training still uncertain about the status of injured closer Gregg Olson. Eichhorn, a sidearm pitcher who relies on a sinker, doesn't figure to take his place, but he's an experienced middle reliever who can pitch a lot of innings if it becomes necessary to use right-hander Alan Mills as the closer.

"I think since Mark Williamson will not be with us, this is a guy who is going to give us some innings," manager Johnny Oates said. "He's a guy who has been in the trenches and has the versatility to pitch in any situation."

No doubt, the Orioles also hope to draw on Eichhorn's experience pitching under pennant-race and postseason pressure, and he said last night he was anxious to join them because they have a chance to get him back to the playoffs next season.

"I had other teams interested, but they were a contender," he said. "After you get a taste what we did in Toronto, you want to go where you have a chance to win. The other thing was the chance to play on grass. The kind of pitcher I am, I'm not going to strike out a lot of people, so that should help me."

Gedman gives the club an experienced second- or third-string catcher who hits from the left side of the plate. He is a two-time All-Star who once was considered one of the top all-around catchers in the game, but his career took a severe downturn after he was locked out of the game for several months by the collusive "free-agent freeze-out" of 1987.

The 34-year-old journeyman spent the 1993 season with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers in the New York Yankees organization, where he batted .262 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs.

"These type guys are important to us," said assistant general manager Doug Melvin, who negotiated both contracts. "You're always looking for guys who can do a job for you, like Jamie Moyer and Mark McLemore and Fernando [Valenzuela] did for us last year. They were all signed to Triple-A contracts."

In the case of Eichhorn, the Triple-A contract came with an assurance that he will be placed on the major-league roster by Opening Day. The Orioles do not have any open spaces on their 40-man roster, so they would have had to outright a player to make room for a new addition. This way, he can wait until a spot opens, which could happen next week when the Orioles face the Dec. 20 deadline for tendering contracts.

The acquisition of another right-handed middleman fills the void left by the departure of Williamson, a free agent. It also improves the club's bargaining position with right-hander Todd Frohwirth, who faces the possibility that he won't be tendered a contract on Dec. 20. Frohwirth earned $900,000 last season and is eligible for arbitration, but it seems highly unlikely that the Orioles will tender him a contract and setthemselves up for a potentially expensive arbitration ruling.

"It [signing Eichhorn] protects us in case we don't have Frohwirth," Melvin said, "but we'd like to work things out with Frohwirth so we have both of them in the bullpen."

The Orioles signed Gedman because they were short on depth behind the plate. The club released reserve catcher Mark Parent on Dec. 2, and he agreed to terms on a minor-league contract with the Chicago Cubs yesterday. Gedman will go to camp to compete with Jeff Tackett for the reserve role, but there are indications that the club will continue to look for more catching help.

Parent had strong minor-league numbers the past couple of years, but his five years of major-league experience made him an arbitration risk. That, combined with the club's desire to get some left-right flexibility and the opportunity to save a roster spot with a minor-league contract, made Gedman more attractive.

"If Mark had not made our ballclub, I don't think he would have been happy to go back to the minor leagues again," Melvin said. "This gives us a guy who catches well and has some

major-league experience."

Gedman said last night that he is just happy for the chance to be part of a contending team. He played in the postseason twice with the Boston Red Sox and said he hopes to get a chance to help the Orioles win the American League East.

"The team is really going in the right direction," he said. "I think everybody wants an opportunity to be with a winning team. They have good quality people, great players. . . . They have everything. They have all the ingredients to win it all, and I'd like to be a part of it."

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