FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - They spent hours together yesterday, did Orioles general manager Pat Gillick and Montreal GM Jim Beattie, and all the talk paid off: The Orioles traded outfielder Sherman Obando to Montreal for outfielder Tony Tarasco after last night's game.
Tarasco, a 25-year-old left-handed hitter who batted .249 with 14 homers and 24 stolen bases for Montreal last season, figures to be a semi-regular for the Orioles, starting in right field or left or as designated hitter. He'll share time with Jeffrey Hammonds and Mike Devereaux, and because of his strong throwing arm and slightly above-average range, he'll be used as a defensive replacement.
The Orioles never could figure out what to do with Obando, 26, a good hitter who repeatedly failed to establish himself at first base or in the outfield. Obando will be given a chance to win an outfield spot with the Expos.
Orioles manager Davey Johnson said of Tarasco, "He gives us the player we've been looking for a left-handed bat, great arm in the outfield, speed and youth.
"This is just a good acquisition. He gives us a whole lot more options."
The Orioles were working with a little bit of inside information in acquiring Tarasco. Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone traded for Tarasco last April, when Malone was the GM for the Expos.
Tarasco said, "I'm happy to be with Kevin. He likes me and wants me to play. I got a lot of high hopes for the Orioles.
"It's a better team. I'll see what they have planned for me. I know they're thinking of platooning me with [Mike] Devereaux. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to play against left-handers and play all the time. . . . I'm excited."
Gillick made initial contact with the Expos three weeks ago, and the two teams talked about a couple of different possibilities. The Expos liked Obando; Fred Ferreira, the Expos' director of international scouting, had signed the Panamanian outfielder for the New York Yankees.
By chance, the Orioles and Expos played two split-squad games yesterday, the first an afternoon game in West Palm Beach, the other a night game here. Prior to the afternoon exhibition, Malone ran into Tarasco on the field, and they agreed to meet later which they did, chatting for half an hour. Malone never brought up the possibility of a deal, but Tarasco was well aware of the circumstances. In fact, Montreal manager Felipe Alou told him earlier this week not to worry about the rumors, he wasn't going to be traded.
Gillick and Beattie sat together throughout the exhibition game, with no resolution. In the third inning of the night game, Malone, sitting in a seat behind home plate, looked over in the Expos' seats and saw Ferreira and Beattie sitting together. Malone called them on his cellular phone.
"Hey, Fred," Malone said, in mock anger, "have we got a deal or what?"
Ferreira replied, "I don't know. Where's Pat?"
Gillick rejoined Beattie the next inning, and by the seventh, the two general managers had agreed to the trade. Tarasco, the newest Oriole, played the eighth and ninth innings for the Expos, finishing the game 0-for-4.
Tarasco immediately visited the Orioles' clubhouse, shaking hands with his newest teammates. He shook hands with Malone, saying nothing but offering a knowing grin.
Montreal manager Felipe Alou said, 'We know we're giving up a guy who's got everything a great arm, good speed. He led the club in home runs last year. But all of a sudden, we had a number of left-handed hitting people on our roster."
Too many for the Expos to keep. And Gillick has been seeking a left-handed hitting outfield most of the spring, because the Orioles are short on left-handed hitting. Prior to the deal, the only bench candidate who hit left-handed was Jeff Huson.
Tarasco came up through the Atlanta farm system, before being traded to the Expos. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles, a former gang member, but he developed an excellent reputation in Montreal for his community work.
Obando could be a part-time outfielder for the Expos, but he must prove to Alou, as he could never do with the Orioles, that he can play in the field.
"We think Sherman can hit in the major leagues," Beattie said. "I've been aware of him since he signed with the Yankees. The Orioles managed to keep him in the major leagues for a while he's got a good bat."
Obando said, "I'm excited. It seems like they're going to give me the opportunity. . . . I'm a major-league hitter and I'm ready to handle it."
Pub Date: 3/14/96
Tony Tarasco file
Number crunching: He hit .249 with 14 homers, 24 stolen bases and 40 RBI in 438 at-bats for Montreal last season.
Where he's been: Tarasco came up in the minors in the Atlanta Braves organization, playing parts of 1993 and 1994 with Atlanta. Last spring, the Braves traded Tarasco to the Montreal Expos as part of the deal for Marquis Grissom.
His role with the Orioles: He'll be an extra outfielder, often used for late-inning defense, particularly for Jeffrey Hammonds or Bobby Bonilla.
The skinny: Even before spring training began, Orioles general manager Pat Gillick acknowledged his club needed one more left-handed hitting outfielder who could play solid defense. The Orioles talked with the San Diego Padres about Melvin Nieves, but when those talks fell apart, the Orioles began concentrating on Tarasco. He is a good athlete, with good power and speed, and a tremendous throwing arm. But he may be too inconsistent to be a regular player. "If you leave him out there long enough," one NL scout said last week, "he's bound to do something that will kill you. He's one of those guys you can't overexpose." As a part-timer? "He's perfect," the scout said.
Statistically speaking: Tarasco was the toughest player in the NL to double up last year, hitting into only two double plays in 438 at-bats. . . . He was involved in four collisions with catchers at home plate, knocking out two Matt Nokes and Scott Servais.