O's add depth with Cotto, Gonzales, Williamson

February 04, 1994|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Writer

It has been one of the busiest off-seasons in Orioles history, and the front office is showing no signs of fatigue. The club beefed up the bench and the bullpen yesterday, signing three veteran free agents.

Right-hander Mark Williamson, former Orioles utility infielder Rene Gonzales and veteran outfielder Henry Cotto all agreed to minor-league contracts yesterday and have been invited to spring training.

Williamson, who became a free agent after his seventh season with the Orioles, agreed to terms on a make-good contract -- much as he did before winning a place in the bullpen a year ago. Gonzales, who was traded by the Orioles in 1991, returns after three seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and California Angels to compete for a reserve role.

The only true newcomer is Cotto, a 10-year veteran who has played for the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners and Florida Marlins.

In one day, the Orioles made significant progress on three fronts. They deepened the bullpen, addressed a major experience deficit on the bench and strengthened the organization at the minor-league level.

Williamson may find it tougher to crack the Orioles bullpen this year, but he was happy to have his contract situation resolved.

"The way the market was, I'm just happy to be going to spring training," he said. "It will be fun. There will be a lot of competition."

The club did not appear to be particularly interested in bringing him back after a 1993 season in which he was 7-5 with a hefty 4.91 ERA, but Williamson, 34, threw well enough in winter workouts at Camden Yards to rate an invitation.

"We're happy to have him back and he's happy to be back," general manager Roland Hemond said.

Williamson is the fourth relief pitcher the Orioles have signed this winter. They added free-agent closer Lee Smith last weekend, signed free-agent right-hander Mark Eichhorn in December and acquired Steve Chitren in the Triple-A draft.

The acquisition of Gonzales and Cotto should give manager Johnny Oates far more roster flexibility after a season in which he was forced to get by largely on Triple-A depth. Gonzales, 31, batted .251 in 118 games with the Angels last year and played all four infield positions. Cotto, 33, struggled through the first half of the season with the Seattle Mariners (.190), but batted .296 in the second half as a Florida Marlin.

"His strong point is his numbers against left-handed pitching," Oates said of Cotto. "If we want to give Harold Baines a day off against a tough left-hander or give Brady [Anderson] a day off, this is a guy who can complement them. He hit something like .320 against left-handers last year."

Cotto also is a solid defensive outfielder with good speed. He stole 16 bases in 21 attempts last year.

The Orioles had hoped to avoid the kind of experience gap thatforced the club to keep promising Damon Buford at the major-league level for much of the 1993 season, but Oates is not ready to relegate Buford and fellow prospects Sherman Obando and Jack Voigt to a 1994 season in the minor leagues just yet.

"We're not going to write the young guys off yet," Oates said. "This is just going to give us some competition and make us a better ballclub. Guys like Gonzo, Tim Hulett and Cotto are the kind of role players that make you a good team, but that doesn't automatically mean that they [the young players] are headed to the minor leagues."

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