Murray coming back to Orioles Mercker to be sent to Indians in return for veteran slugger

DH waives no-trade clause

Deal could be finished today, AL sources say

July 21, 1996|By BUSTER OLNEY | BUSTER OLNEY,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Eddie Murray is back.

Almost, anyway. The Orioles are on the verge of reacquiring the slugger, according to league sources, in a trade with the Cleveland Indians that may be completed as soon as today.

The Orioles are expected to deal left-hander Kent Mercker for Murray, who has waived a no-trade clause in his contract to rejoin his former team. Murray, 40, needs nine more homers to reach 500 for his career. He will serve as the team's designated hitter, and the switch-hitter will give the Orioles a better lineup against left-handed pitchers.

It remains to be seen whether the acquisition of Murray will

improve the playoff chances of the Orioles, who lost, 2-0, to the Boston Red Sox and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield yesterday -- without center fielder Brady Anderson, who still is waiting to find out if his case of appendicitis will lead to surgery that will sideline him three to six weeks.

Murray hit 333 homers for the Orioles before he was traded in 1988 to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitchers Brian Holton and Ken Howell and infielder Juan Bell. Since then, he has bounced from the Dodgers to the New York Mets to the Indians, surpassing 3,000 hits along the way.

When he was with the Orioles before, Murray wore No. 33, one of only five numbers retired in club history. Twice before a retired number came out of retirement -- Earl Weaver (No. 4) and Frank Robinson (No. 20) each came back to manage.

The trade of Murray for Mercker is a swap of two players who have fallen out of favor with their respective teams. (There also could be cash considerations in the deal, as well.) Murray hit .323 with 21 homers and 82 RBIs last year. Nonetheless, Indians general manager John Hart seemed reluctant to sign Murray, and only did so at the urging of manager Mike Hargrove, who said he needed Murray's presence in the clubhouse.

Murray and Hart went through a difficult negotiation for his $2 million contract in 1996, and reportedly they no longer are on speaking terms.

Murray is batting a respectable .262 overall, but he has hit with diminished power this season -- 66 of his 88 hits have been singles, and with nine doubles, a triple and 12 homers, Murray's slugging percentage is lower than that of Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel. Historically among the best clutch hitters in major-league history, Murray is batting .213 with runners in scoring position this year. As his production has slipped, so has his playing time.

Nine days ago Murray was told that he wouldn't be the Indians' designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, and Cleveland -- which visits Camden Yards later this week -- intended to cut his at-bats against left-handers as well.

The Indians want to assess two of their younger players, Brian Giles and Jeromy Burnitz, as they prepare for the possibility of Albert Belle departing as a free agent. Murray is hitting .292 from the right side, .251 from the left side.

Mercker, 28, has been a terrible disappointment to the Orioles since being acquired from the Atlanta Braves for prospects Joe Borowski and Rachaad Stewart last December.

General manager Pat Gillick believed he was trading for a talented left-hander who had been lost among the other exceptional Atlanta starters. At the time, Gillick talked about how he felt he was trading for a pitcher with a fresh arm, because the Braves used Mercker infrequently.

Gillick felt so good about Mercker's potential that he included in his contract a $3.3 million option for 1997 that would kick in automatically if Mercker pitched 180 innings.

But Mercker is about to leave the Orioles four months into the season having pitched a total of 58 innings, with a 3-6 record and a 7.76 ERA. Mercker lost his spot in the rotation after getting hammered by the Texas Rangers on June 18, and has pitched only twice since then. He has given up 12 homers, 73 hits and 35 walks.

Mercker, who lives in Ohio, said privately in the past few days that he would welcome a trade to Cleveland, and would even agree to go to Triple-A to get his arm and mechanics in shape.

"I'd love to stay here [with the Orioles]," Mercker said yesterday, when informed he was probably heading to Cleveland. "I don't want to give up on myself. Pat traded for me, and I didn't do my job."

All that being said, though, Mercker added, "I'd be excited to go to Cleveland."

Murray was nearly traded to the Orioles last month. A swap of Bobby Bonilla and Jeffrey Hammonds for Murray, Burnitz and Albie Lopez was vetoed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who didn't want to trade Bonilla to another American League team.

Murray broke in with the Orioles in 1977 and immediately established himself as one of the best run-producers in baseball. Coming into this season, Murray drove in fewer than 82 runs only twice in his career, and each time was in a year interrupted by a strike (1981 and 1994). Six times he has driven in 100 or more runs.

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