Decision time is looming for O's Bonilla probably out, Orosco in as labor deal failure clarifies status

November 08, 1996|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

It's decision-making time for the Orioles.

With major-league owners voting down the proposed labor agreement Wednesday and little progress expected to be made quickly, teams now know who the free agents are. The next step is trying to sign unrestricted free agents or offering salary arbitration to repeater rights players by the midnight Nov. 14 deadline.

The Orioles hold repeater rights on four players -- Jesse Orosco, Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Mark Parent. They could be retained simply by offering arbitration, and six others are unrestricted free agents who can begin talking contract with other teams on Nov. 15.

Of the repeater rights players, reliever Orosco is the most likely to return. Club sources have indicated it's unlikely the Orioles would bring back right fielder Bonilla (.287 average with 28 home runs and 116 RBIs in 1996), and will choose to spend elsewhere the millions it would cost to sign him.

It is unlikely the Orioles will offer arbitration to designated hitter Murray, the 15th member of the 500-homer club, because he probably would be awarded a salary near $2 million. Reserve catcher Parent, the other player the Orioles hold repeater rights to, was offered a minor-league deal and is trying to catch on with another major-league team.

The Orioles said repeatedly that they would be willing to go to arbitration, if necessary, to retain Orosco. Their last offer to Orosco, 39, was for one year plus an option with a base salary in the $700,000 range and lots of incentives. However, the recent signings of two other setup pitchers by the Los Angeles Dodgers have increased Orosco's market value, according to his agent, Alan Meersand.

"The labor agreement not passing is very advantageous to the Orioles being able to re-sign Jesse," Meersand said. "One of the things that doesn't work in the Orioles' favor is the signing of Mark Guthrie by the Dodgers to a two-year contract at $1.6 million a year.

"That has altered our thinking to some degree as we're moving ahead with this deal. How could Jesse Orosco not even be worth half as much as Mark Guthrie? The market has changed. The plot thickens."

Assistant general manager Kevin Malone said the Orioles will use the next week to decide their plans with their repeater rights players.

"Between now and [Nov. 15], we'll make that decision," Malone said.

Every other major-league team must make similar decisions, many of which will have ramifications to the Orioles' wish list. For example, the Oakland Athletics are likely to offer arbitration to shortstop Mike Bordick, who would have become a free agent under the proposed agreement. The Orioles were interested in signing Bordick.

A's catcher Terry Steinbach and Philadelphia Phillies catcher Benito Santiago also are repeater rights players, and even if their clubs can't afford them, they are more likely to offer them arbitration and trade them than they are to let them walk away as unrestricted free agents.

Other repeater rights players the Orioles expressed interest in include New York Yankees left-handed pitcher Jimmy Key and San Francisco Giants shortstop Shawon Dunston.

Left-handed pitcher David Wells is the most prominent of the other six free agents who played for the Orioles in 1996. Wells was the Orioles' only proven left-handed starter in 1996, compiling an 11-14 record and 5.14 ERA. However, the Cleveland Indians have expressed serious interest in Wells, and his agent is scheduled to speak with the Yankees and Florida Marlins today.

Malone said the club would like to sign outfielder Pete Incaviglia and has not ruled out bringing back Todd Zeile either, though not at third base. Bill Ripken likely will be offered another minor-league invitation to camp with the assurance he'll be given a spot on the team, and the Orioles could do the same with rehabilitating reliever Roger McDowell.

The Orioles do not plan to re-sign outfielder Mike Devereaux, Malone said.

The club will continue to evaluate its off-season options at next week's winter meetings in Arizona. Then it will wait to see which players are offered arbitration or released.

"Some of the repeater rights guys are going to be a tough decision for some of these clubs, if they want to submit the type of money these players might win in arbitration," Malone said. "A few agents will be in Arizona, and we'll have some meetings and discussions during the winter meetings."

NOTES: Orioles hitting coach Rick Down could have had a job doing the same thing for the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

Down's friend Buck Showalter will manage the team when it starts play in 1998, and he wanted to hire Down, a finalist for the recently filled California Angels managing opening, before he re-signed with the Orioles for two years.

"We talked, but I never really thought I'd leave Baltimore," Down said. "I wanted to stay in Baltimore."

Orioles' free-agent hunt

The Orioles have confirmed interest in these free agents, who are not subject to repeater-rights or service-time restrictions:

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