SARASOTA, Fla. -- Two days after they offered free-agent outfielder Andy Van Slyke a one-year, $1 million contract, the Orioles backed off their bid, telling his agent they want some time to look at their own young players. At the same time, Hemond forwarded an offer to free-agent outfielder Brett Butler of about $1 million.
Butler, 37, hit .314 with 27 stolen bases in 111 games last year for the Dodgers, who decided last week not to pursue him. Butler is a career .290 hitter with 503 stolen bases in 14 major-league seasons.
No matter which direction the Orioles take, they likely will wait for at least a few exhibition games to be played before a decision is made.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond said yesterday, "I told Dick Moss [Van Slyke's agent] that Andy should explore other offers."
Hemond says the Orioles may now look to start the season with some combination of the young outfielders they have in camp. Perhaps Curtis Goodwin or Damon Buford in center field, or maybe Sherman Obando in left and Brady Anderson in center.
"We're basically thinking about going with what we have here in camp," Hemond said. "We're pleased with what we are seeing in our younger players.
"We have good talent, and we shouldn't stand in the way of those players showing they are ready to play in the big leagues."
The Orioles' sudden change of direction could've been caused by any of several factors:
* Their interest in Van Slyke initially was generated over concern for the well-being of right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who is coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Now that Hammonds' knee apparently is OK, the need for Van Slyke isn't so pressing.
* Young players -- Goodwin, Buford and others -- are impressing manager Phil Regan more and more.
* Some within the Orioles organization were shocked that Van Slyke turned down the $1 million offer in a depressed free-agent market. Whether intentional or not, this could be an effective way of driving down Van Slyke's asking price -- believed to be about $1.8 million -- if the Orioles resume talks with the former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder.
Hemond would not rule out the possibility of going back to Van Slyke or completing a deal with Butler.
Van Slyke said: "I'm very disappointed. Especially in the last 10 days, I was trying to hang on to the hope of playing for them. I was led on to think I was going to play for the Orioles. I made a trip to Baltimore and saw the team doctor. I've been working hard at home getting myself ready."
Van Slyke said the two sides weren't far from closing a deal. "Unless I'm misreading what my agent was hearing, I was ready to sign today," Van Slyke said. "There was no offer for me to accept. I just felt it was time for me to get in uniform and start playing."
He plans to go to Homestead, Fla., where other free agents are working out. "I stayed here [at his Missouri home] in some way to protect the Orioles. In my heart and my mind, I really felt the Orioles were going to sign me. That's why I didn't go to Homestead. Now I'm going to show people I'm ready to play."
O's, Yanks get schedule break
It would seem the Orioles and New York Yankees were helped by the revisions to the American League schedule, and the Toronto Blue Jays were very much hurt.
By losing the first three weeks of the season, the Orioles and Yankees lost games against the Chicago White Sox, among the best teams in the league; the Texas Rangers, the strongest of the weak AL West; and two weaker teams, the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. Those four combined for a 236-219 record a year ago, a .519 winning percentage.
The Blue Jays lost games against four of the AL's weakest teams: the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Twins and California Angels, who combined for a 200-254 record in 1994, a .441 winning percentage.
Regan said he's been too busy to take a close look at how the new schedule may affect the races. "I did think about how we were supposed to play Kansas City," Regan said, "when I saw them trade those pitchers and outfielders last week."
Right-handed reliever Mark Eichhorn, who underwent rotator cuff surgery in February, may be out longer than two months after being placed on the 60-day disabled list.
"It's hard to say," said Regan. "You've got two months [on the DL], then a month of rehabilitation. I would say that if we get him back late in the year, we'll be fortunate.
"I'm going about [planning] as if we don't have him for three months, and if we do, it'll be a bonus."
Rule V draftee Russell Brock will have to open some eyes to stick with the Orioles. Selected out of the Oakland organization in December, the pitcher either must remain with the Orioles the entire season or be offered back to the A's for $25,000. Regan said that because of the shortened spring, Brock may have a more difficult time making the roster.