Orioles expected to sign pitchers Brown, Jones

April 08, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Maybe this is the Orioles' version of rope-a-dope. For five days, they sat back passively while the New York Yankees added reliever John Wetteland and the Toronto Blue Jays traded for David Cone. The Orioles? Nothing.

But last night, they came off the ropes, moving swiftly toward signing free-agent pitchers Kevin Brown, a 21-game winner for the Texas Rangers two years ago, and Doug Jones, who saved 27 games for the Philadelphia Phillies a year ago.

The Orioles intended to wait until after midnight last night to officially tender offers, to ensure they would not have to surrender draft picks to the Rangers and Phillies as compensation.

Texas and Philadelphia had until midnight to offer the two pitchers salary arbitration, which would earn them the picks if the two signed elsewhere. But Rangers general manager Doug Melvin and Phillies assistant general manager Ed Wade said they would not offer arbitration to Brown and Jones -- making the Orioles' acquisition of the two pitchers a virtual certainty.

Early yesterday evening, the Cleveland Indians improved their offer to Jones. But an agent familiar with the negotiations said the Orioles' bid for Jones blew Cleveland's offer out of the water.

Brown is expected to receive a one-year contract for about $4.225 million, exactly what he made last year, and Jones will get a one-year deal for between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, including incentives, and an option for a second year.

The addition of Brown, 30, would bolster the Orioles' rotation -- assuming he bounces back from a miserable 1994 season when he went 7-9 with a 4.82 ERA. Brown had a bitter contract dispute with the Rangers, coming out of arbitration with a one-year, $4.225 million deal, and opposing hitters batted .314 against him.

At the least, Brown gives the Orioles another durable pitcher in the rotation and would help take pressure off what figures to be, at best, a mediocre bullpen. Over the past five years, he has averaged seven innings per start. Brown is a sinker-baller: His 3.2 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio last year was much higher than the league average of 1.27.

The Orioles' interest in Brown, who likely would bump Jamie Moyer out of the rotation and into the bullpen, has been fueled by his friendship with Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, a former teammate.

By late yesterday afternoon, Palmeiro was aware of the Orioles' interest in Brown. "I think that's awesome," he said. "We got one of the better pitchers in the league."

Palmeiro was asked what Brown could give the Orioles. "Twenty wins and 200-plus innings, guaranteed," he said.

Palmeiro said he believes Brown's negotiations affected the pitcher's performance last year. "He had a slow start," Palmeiro said. "It is my opinion -- I may be way off -- he probably turned down a lot of money. He had a bad start and could never recuperate. That probably put a lot of pressure on him. He felt he had a great year.

"His team didn't really help him, either. . . . They were dead last in defense, and he's a ground-ball pitcher and needs defensive help."

Another general manager lauded the Orioles' pursuit of Brown ++ yesterday. "That's a great pickup for them," the GM said. "He's got great stuff, and he's definitely got the ability to bounce back."

But the addition of Brown may not be nearly as important as that of Jones because of the Orioles' desperate need for bullpen help. Armando Benitez, with 16 days of major-league service time, is slated to be the closer, and Alan Mills will work as a setup man. To date, that's all manager Phil Regan knows about his bullpen.

Regan has said repeatedly this week, however, that he believed Benitez could handle the role, if only he could get some support from the rest of the bullpen.

Jones, 37, has 217 career saves, including 89 over the past three seasons. With the Phillies last year, he compiled a 2.17 ERA, allowing just six walks in 54 innings and confounding hitters with what he calls his "power changeup."

Most short relievers succeed with good fastballs. Jones dominates with slow stuff.

FTC The Orioles discussed the possibility of trading for the Milwaukee Brewers' Mike Fetters, but the right-hander wanted a two-year deal worth $3 million; end of discussion. They talked to free-agent reliever Jim Gott, formerly with Los Angeles and a friend of Regan's. But Gott's price tag was higher than the Orioles wanted to spend, and he signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates worth $900,000.

Yesterday, free-agent reliever Mike Jackson auditioned for Regan and his coaching staff. Jackson said afterward that he wanted to show the Orioles that his elbow, which forced him to the San Francisco Giants' disabled list twice last year, is sound. But Jackson only threw for eight minutes before walking off, leaving some in the organization to wonder if he's OK.

The right-hander has agreed to throw again today, and to be examined by Michael Jacobs, the Orioles' team physician. "This way, we can see if he can handle the stress of pitching back-to-back days," Regan said, "and our doctor can take a look at him."

The Orioles should know a whole lot more about Jackson today, about the makeup of their pitching staff, and about their chances of winning the AL East.

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