O's not short of free-agent possibilities Bordick and Elster at top of list for club at shortstop

Hamilton is CF interest

Murray talks affected by labor agreement

November 01, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles plunged into the free-agent market yesterday, contacting agents for at least two shortstops, and general manager Pat Gillick, unsure of how the proposed labor agreement may affect the club's payroll, has encouraged veteran designated hitter Eddie Murray to talk to other clubs.

Gillick last night confirmed the club's interest in these free agents:

Shortstops Mike Bordick and Kevin Elster, another sign the Orioles intend to move Cal Ripken to third base. Bordick, 31, will be a free agent if the owners ratify the proposed labor agreement. He is generally regarded as the most polished shortstop in the AL, and batted .240 with five homers and 54 RBIs for the Oakland A's last season. Elster, 32, batted .252 with 24 homers and 99 RBIs for the Texas Rangers.

Center fielder Darryl Hamilton, who turns 32 next month. He batted .293 and scored 94 runs for the Rangers last season, and is considered among the best defensive center fielders in baseball, and if the Orioles were to sign Hamilton, they probably would move Brady Anderson to left field.

Hamilton is represented by his brother John, who confirmed from his Houston-based office that Gillick called yesterday morning. Darryl Hamilton, John said, is "absolutely" interested in the Orioles.

"In Darryl's words, the Orioles were very close to winning it, and he certainly wants to be part of a team that has a shot of winning," John Hamilton said.

The team that signs Hamilton, who made $1.05 million in '96, would not have to give up a draft pick as compensation; the Rangers agreed to let him walk away as an unrestricted free agent after the 1996 season.

Should the Orioles sign Hamilton and move Anderson to left, they probably would move B. J. Surhoff to right. That would lend credence to the belief around baseball that the Orioles are going to let Bobby Bonilla sign elsewhere as a free agent.

Bonilla, who made $4.5 million last season, has applied for free agency and is drawing interest from the Chicago Cubs, Florida ** Marlins and Cleveland Indians. If Bonilla signs elsewhere, the Orioles stand to receive a first-round draft pick as compensation depending on whether the owners vote to ratify the proposed labor agreement.

The team also is interested in pitchers Jimmy Key, Terry Mulholland and Bob Tewksbury. Key, 35, went 12-11 with a 4.68 ERA for the Yankees last season, and pitched very effectively in the postseason; he used to pitch for Toronto, when Gillick was general manager of the Blue Jays. Mulholland, 33, went 8-7 for Philadelphia and then 5-4 with a 4.67 ERA for Seattle, after being traded to the Mariners. The Padres declined to pick up a '97 option on Tewksbury, who went 10-10 with a 4.31 ERA in '96. The Orioles also are trying to re-sign David Wells.

The Orioles are expected to contact agents for top-flight free agents John Smoltz and Alex Fernandez. But Smoltz probably will re-sign with Atlanta for a four- or five-year deal for around $7 million per year, while Fernandez's agent, Scott Boras, expects that right-hander to sign a five-year deal for between $30 million and $35 million -- very steep for the Orioles, who already have huge dollars committed to the likes of Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar.

Those massive salaries and the uncertainty of how the proposed labor agreement may affect the Orioles' payroll has led to at least a temporary impasse in negotiations with Murray, who filed for free agency yesterday.

"We had a brief discussion with the Orioles [yesterday]," said Murray's agent, Ron Shapiro. "They suggested we talk to other clubs. We hope to keep talking to the Orioles as well.

"I met with Eddie, and he remains very interested in returning and making a contribution to the Orioles."

Gillick confirmed that he suggested Murray test the free-agent market, while reiterating the Orioles want Murray back. But Gillick said he's not sure the Orioles could be constricted by the effects of the proposed revenue-sharing proposal, and may not be able to pay Murray what he wants.

"A lot depends on how the labor agreement is settled," Gillick said. "We want to address our needs -- a starting pitcher, Wells or somebody else, and other things. We'd like to be able to keep Eddie, but certainly other things take priority."

Murray took a pay cut from $3 million to $2 million from the Cleveland Indians for the 1996 season, and Gillick said he has gotten the impression from Shapiro that Murray, cognizant of his own service time and his stature in the game, doesn't "want to take another hit" in salary.

"We have to take a hard look at [the new labor agreement] before we decide what we're going to do," said Gillick.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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