With Smith, O's get their man, their price

SIDELIGHT

June 15, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The player to be named the Orioles traded for Dwight Smith yesterday likely was named either Feliciano Mercedes 20 years ago or Basilio Ortiz 24 years ago.

Either way, the Orioles figure they came out ahead.

Both players are considered marginal prospects at best, which means the Orioles acquired the left-handed-hitting outfielder they have been seeking and didn't have to part with much to fill the need.

The California Angels will choose from a list of three players agreed upon by both clubs, a list that included an outfielder, a shortstop and a pitcher, all projected fringe players, none of whom are on the 40-man roster.

The Angels are leaning against taking the pitcher, whose identity is a mystery, and likely will choose between Mercedes, a shortstop hitting .237 at Single-A Frederick, and Ortiz, a right-handed-hitting outfielder batting .318 at Double-A Bowie.

Completion of the trade was delayed so the Angels can scout Mercedes, who has been injured. They have until Oct. 1 to decide.

The clubs had been talking for more than two weeks. The Angels initially attempted to get Rochester left-hander Brad Pennington.

The Orioles exhibited patience, figuring the Angels would agree to a lesser player so that they could free themselves of the remainder of Smith's $700,000 salary.

They figured right.

This is Smith's sixth season in the major leagues. He spent the first five with the Chicago Cubs, for whom he hit .285 and hit 32 home runs in 1,327 at-bats. Smith was hitting .262 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in 45 games for the Angels.

His best season was in 1989, when he hit .324 and finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting to teammate Jerome Walton.

Smith, 30, has not started a game since June 1, losing his job when the Angels decided to play rookie Jim Edmonds on an everyday basis. Smith opened the season platooning in left field with Bo Jackson.

How will Smith be used in Baltimore, where the Orioles have Brady Anderson in left field, Mike Devereaux in center and Chris Sabo, filling in for Jeffrey Hammonds, in right?

"It certainly is interesting," manager Johnny Oates said, "that if we're facing a tough right-hander, you can put a left-handed hitter like that in there and give Devo a day off."

Smith has one thing in common with Devereaux and Hammonds. He feels most comfortable playing center field. During his days with the Cubs and the Angels, Smith had trouble getting good breaks on the ball playing at both corners.

The Angels liked Smith's bat and enthusiasm, but were disappointed with his performance in left field.

Smith's new team hopes he can start his Orioles career the way he finished his brief Angels stay.

Smith hit a pinch-hit home run in his final at-bat for the Angels on Monday night in Kansas City.

"He can play all three outfield positions, he hits left-handed, he can steal a base, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and he can pinch hit," Oates said.

And he can sing.

"That's a matter of opinion," Oates said, smiling.

Smith, a popular, outgoing sort, sang the national anthem before Cubs and Angels games.

But it was Smith's left-handed bat, not his voice, that interested the Orioles. "We talked to several clubs and he was one of the ones who fit the bill," Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said.

The Orioles also talked with the Phillies about Jim Eisenreich and Milt Thompson and to Montreal about potential free agent Larry Walker. In Smith, they acquired a more affordable player who cost them less in the way of prospects.

DWIGHT SMITH FILE

Height: 5-11. Weight: 195.

Born: 11/8/63, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Bats: Left. Throws: Right.

Career highlights: In 1989, Smith hit .324 and finished second in National League Rookie of the Year voting. He had a career-high 11 homers last year, and has hit five already this year, in 122 at-bats. He finished last year with a .300 average.

@Career statistics

Yr .. .. Team .. .. Avg. .. R .. .. HR .. RBI

. .. Cubs .. .. .324 .. 52 .. .. 9 .. 52

'90 . .. Cubs .. .. .262 .. 34 .. .. 6 .. 27

'91 . .. Cubs .. .. .228 .. 16 .. .. 3 .. 21

'92 . .. Cubs .. .. .276 .. 28 .. .. 3 .. 24

'93 . .. Cubs .. .. .300 .. 51 .. . 11 .. 35

'94 . .. Angels ... .262 .. 19 .. .. 5 .. 18

ML totals ... .. .. .283 . 200 .. . 37 . 177

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