Bonilla steps back up to O's trade plate

July 18, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles have intensified their search for a power-hitting outfielder in the past few days, and appear to be setting their sights on Bobby Bonilla of the New York Mets.

The Orioles and Mets, according to AL and NL sources, have discussed Bonilla in recent days, renewing talks that first took place in the fall of 1993. The Mets have expressed interest in Orioles right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds -- somewhat ironic, because Hammonds' lack of production over the last six weeks is precisely the reason the Orioles are looking for another big bopper. They've also discussed, to a much lesser degree, Minnesota's Kirby Puckett and Houston outfielder Phil Plantier.

Unless the Orioles can work out a deal before the trading deadline of July 31, any player involved in a swap would have to be passed through waivers. The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers TC or New York Yankees could block a deal, if they so chose. But one baseball source indicated last night that the Orioles are giving the impression they want to make a deal quickly -- perhaps by the end of the week.

The Orioles may feel an additional urgency now that catcher Chris Hoiles, one of the team's primary sources of power, is out.

Hammonds had reconstructive knee surgery last fall, and although he had one good spurt of offense after being recalled from the minors on May 26, he's struggled much of the year. His average reached .297 on June 7, and since then it has dropped to .240, including 0-for-3 last night. Hammonds hasn't homered since June 6, and he's driven in three runs over the last 16 games.

There is some sentiment within the organization's hierarchy that sometime soon, the Orioles, fourth lowest in runs scored in the AL, are going to need some consistent contributions from whomever plays right field for the team to contend for the AL East title.

Bonilla, whose contract calls for $4.4 million this year and $4.5 million next season, hasn't been the franchise-type player the Mets had hoped for when they signed him before the 1992 season. But he's proven, as he did with Pittsburgh, that he can be an excellent complementary offensive player, a switch-hitter who would fit in nicely batting fifth or sixth in the Orioles' lineup.

Bonilla hit 73 homers from 1992-94 for the Mets, and is in the midst of a great year. Bonilla is hitting .319, with 14 homers and 158 total bases, which rank third in the NL. He was selected to the NL All-Star team.

Hammonds has been considered untouchable in the past. When the San Diego Padres were dangling first baseman Fred McGriff two years ago and asked about Hammonds, they were told, in no uncertain terms, that Hammonds wouldn't be traded.

But the Orioles may not be quite so quick to shut the door this time around. Hammonds' primary asset coming out of college was speed, and naturally, he's not running as well now, nine months after knee surgery.

The Orioles' decision-makers must determine, for themselves, whether they think Hammonds will ever regain the kind of speed that he needs to be an impact-type player.

Mets general manager Joe McIlvaine has, in the past, also coveted young pitchers when making a deal, and one source within the New York organization thinks he may want rookie reliever Armando Benitez for Bonilla. Benitez has been close to untouchable in the past, but his occasional blowups on and off the field may make him available.

POWER POSSIBILITIES

As the Orioles look around for a power hitter, these are some of the players on the market they may consider.

BOBBY BONILLA, METS

Upside: A consistent run producer who adds the bonus of being a switch-hitter.

Downside: He would be a subpar right fielder, at best, and he does strike out a lot.

KIRBY PUCKETT, TWINS

Upside: If you've got a runner at third and less than two outs, he will drive home the run.

Downside: Very pricey, unless he opts to renegotiate his contract. In line to make $6 million for each of the next two years.

JOE CARTER, BLUE JAYS

Upside: Like death and taxes, this is a sure thing: He will drive in 100 runs.

Downside: Extremely expensive in '96 -- $6.5 million.

PHIL PLANTIER, ASTROS

Upside: If he's right, he would be a perfect hitter to exploit the short right-field fence in Camden Yards.

Downside: A below-average outfielder, not much of a hitter against left-handers, and strikes out regularly.

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