Phillips weighs O's $5M offer Proposed 2-year deal could far exceed cost of signing Devereaux

January 11, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles have reached a fork in the road in their search for another veteran outfielder.

The club could spend nearly $5 million over two years to sign multi-talented Tony Phillips, or sign a No. 4 outfielder -- perhaps former Oriole Mike Devereaux -- for significantly less.

General manager Pat Gillick said yesterday that the club has at least one offer out, and agent Tony Attanasio confirmed last night that it was extended to Phillips, the spark plug of the explosive California Angels offense last year.

Attanasio would not say whether Phillips is leaning toward the Orioles, but he indicated that the offer "isn't far off what it would take to make a deal -- and the Orioles know that."

"Tony would certainly like to play for a winner," Attanasio said. "We are talking to three American League clubs, one National League club and one Japanese club. I think if everything was equal, he'd rather stay in the American League."

Gillick appeared to be leaning toward a less-expensive option last week. The Orioles seemed more interested in signing a player such as Devereaux, a capable outfielder who can hit for power against left-handed pitching and who would be willing to sign a one-year contract.

That remains a strong possibility, but Phillips would give manager Davey Johnson far more lineup flexibility. He is an accomplished leadoff hitter who can play almost any position. If he signs with the Orioles, he likely would be the leadoff man, with second baseman Roberto Alomar hitting second and center fielder Brady Anderson moving to the bottom third of the lineup.

The question has been whether the Orioles still have the payroll flexibility to commit $2 million or more to another free agent. Apparently, that question has been answered. Gillick is in a position to sign Phillips if he wants to, even though it would push the club's payroll close to $50 million.

"We want to improve in as many areas as we can," Gillick said last night. "Maybe we will be able to improve on our leadoff situation."

Gillick said that he wants to complete something as soon as possible, perhaps as early as tomorrow. That would allow him time either to bridge the remaining gap with Phillips or finish a deal for a fourth outfielder.

The Orioles remain interested in the two pitchers that defected from the Cuban National Team, but Gillick said a report that the club had offered $2.7 million for 20-year-old Levon Hernandez was false.

"We have not made any offer yet," Gillick said.

Hernandez is the more prized of the two, even though 27-year-old Osvaldo Fernandez could move right into a major league rotation. Hernandez would require some minor league seasoning, enough that the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays are willing to sign him even though they do not begin major league play until 1998.

Gillick continues to shop for a veteran catcher to back up Chris Hoiles, but his list got a little smaller yesterday when former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders signed with the St. Louis Cardinals.

"He was a guy we were looking at," Gillick said, "so we're disappointed, but not upset."

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