Reserve outfielder Jack Voigt could see it coming and so could everybody else, but the Orioles waited until just two hours before baseball's ad hoc roster reduction deadline to announce that Voigt had been designated for assignment.
Now the club has 10 days to trade him, release him or try to pass him through waivers for the purpose of outrighting him to the minor-league system. The move left an opening on the 40-man major-league roster, but the team immediately filled it with Rochester Red Wings left-hander John Shea.
Orioles general manager Roland Hemond worked furiously to pull off a last-minute deal that would keep Voigt in the major leagues, but it was a very tall order with every other club also working to reduce its roster from 28 players to 25 before last night's midnight deadline. The designation could keep Voigt in limbo for another 10 days, but it buys the club more time to work on a possible trade.
"Primarily, it'll be trade time," Hemond said. "I'm going to concentrate on trading him and trying to keep him in the big leagues. You try to do that [for his benefit], but you're also trying to get something in return. Right now, there are quite a few other teams with players in the same situation."
Major-league rosters were expanded to 28 for the first three weeks of the season after a temporary truce in baseball's long-running labor dispute allowed for only three weeks of spring training. That left 84 temporary roster spots to be vacated by midnight last night.
Voigt, who had been former manager Johnny Oates' utility specialist the past two seasons, never really fit into the Orioles' plans in 1995. He made the team out of spring training -- thanks to the temporary roster expansion -- but appeared in three games and batted just once the first three weeks of the season. He was so certain of his impending departure that he spent part of yesterday packing boxes and getting ready to move out of his apartment.
"It has been very anticlimactic," Voigt said last night. "It's been anticlimactic ever since spring training. Let's face it. I've been here the last three weeks just working out and putting on a uniform."
The Orioles sidestepped two other tough decisions Sunday when they placed center fielder Andy Van Slyke on the disabled list (retroactive to May 11) and optioned outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds to the Double-A Bowie Baysox to get some playing time. That allowed manager Phil Regan to keep his 12-man pitching staff intact and bought some time for a few other players on the bubble.
Van Slyke was no surprise. He took a cortisone shot over the weekend to alleviate nagging soreness in his left forearm and would have been out at least a few more days. Now, he'll get time to recover fully.
Hammonds was another story. There had been speculation that he might be optioned, but he reportedly was surprised and disappointed by the decision. Still, his agent said yesterday that the chance to play every day in a minor-league setting for a week or two might be in his best interests.
"Jeffrey and the Orioles share the same goal," said agent Jeff Moorad, "to put him on the field at a 100 percent level. The chicken-and-egg nature of the season as it has developed has not given him the opportunity he had hoped to push him over the last hurdle in a health sense.
"As a result, everybody felt the opportunity to get additional playing time under the close supervision of the Orioles is the appropriate step at this time."
Hammonds has 72 hours to report to Bowie, but he indicated to the minor-league club that he would be on the team bus early today when the Baysox hit the road to play a series in Harrisburg, Pa.
If the front office had not created some flexibility by putting Van Slyke on the disabled list, yesterday might have been a tough day for another young player. Right-hander Mike Oquist ranks among the team leaders in ERA at 2.38, but still appeared to be the odd man out in the bullpen.
"I haven't worried about that," Oquist said Sunday. "It's all stuff that is out of my control. I've always been [on the bubble] every year. I've kind of grown accustomed to it."
He still could face a cut when Van Slyke or Hammonds returns.
"There is a lot of stuff that comes into play," Oquist said. "I've just decided that if it happens, it happens. As long as they haven't said anything to me, I'm all right."
Approximate number of tickets remaining for the Orioles' home games in May:
Day Opponent Tickets
Today Detroit* 14,000
Tomorrow Detroit 11,600
Thursday Detroit 8,500
*-Bargain night, all upper-reserved seats $5.