Orioles might push Murray, Bonilla out Labor uncertainty, salary constraints may force departures

Murray return isn't priority

Bonilla-Bonds reunion possible with Giants

November 14, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Eddie Murray's career with the Orioles might be over. Again.

General manager Pat Gillick, unsure of how a new labor agreement or revenue sharing might affect the Orioles' payroll, told Murray's agent that the team might not have enough money to re-sign the future Hall of Famer.

Simply put: The Orioles have a list of priorities, and Murray is far down the list.

They have an immediate priority -- deciding the fate of Bobby Bonilla. Today, the Orioles must determine whether to offer salary arbitration to Bonilla and keep his rights. If they do, it'll probably be done to set up a trade. The San Francisco Giants are potential bidders, now that they've traded Matt Williams to Cleveland.

League sources confirmed that as part of Barry Bonds' peace accord with the San Francisco ownership, the Giants agreed to try to acquire Bonilla, a longtime friend and former teammate of Bonds.

The Orioles could trade the rights to Bonilla to the Giants, possibly for a decent prospect. The Giants would get a proven run-producer without having to trade one of their best prospects, and the Orioles could get a young player. If the Orioles don't offer Bonilla arbitration, he'll walk away as a free agent and they'll get nothing in return, not even a draft pick.

Either way, Bonilla, who made $4.5 million last season, is headed out the door because of salary constraints, and Murray might be soon to follow.

Murray's representatives, Ron Shapiro and Michael Maas, forwarded a proposal to the Orioles last week that called for their client to take a massive pay cut, from $2 million to between $1 million and $1.5 million. Murray also agreed to accept a reduced role -- most likely, as a left-handed designated hitter.

But Gillick said that still might be more than the Orioles can pay. "I like Eddie, and I like what he did [for the Orioles]," Gillick said. "I don't know, though, if at this point, we're going to be in a position to compensate Eddie at a level he'd be satisfied with.

"We have a lot of priorities we're trying to address."

Murray, 40, was acquired in July, and at the time, it seemed like he was joining the Orioles as window dressing, to hit his 500th homer. But Murray performed well, driving in some important runs, and his leadership played an integral role in the Orioles' turnaround in August and September.

Nonetheless, as Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone are assessing their needs, retaining Murray isn't a priority. Gillick wants to acquire pitching -- the Orioles' dream would be to sign National League Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz, who will cost something in the neighborhood of $6.5 million per year. Gillick wants to sign two starters and a reliever, and left-hander Jesse Orosco. Gillick has confirmed the club's interest in center fielder Darryl Hamilton, who is seeking a three- or two-year contract, a shortstop and a catcher.

Gillick doesn't know, either, how the proposed luxury tax might impact the Orioles, who already have committed millions to the likes of Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar. Under the proposed agreement, the Orioles will be taxed 35 cents for every dollar they go over the ascending payroll threshold.

"I just don't know how much money we'll have available," said Gillick.

Shapiro said Murray's strong preference is to return to the Orioles. Would he re-sign for something minimal? "I don't think that would happen," said Shapiro. "A player in his situation does not play for over the minimum. But at this point, money isn't the issue."

The issue is how much the Orioles have to spend. Gillick told Shapiro he'd be ready to discuss Murray's situation again after Dec. 15. "It doesn't close the door," said Gillick.

Shapiro said, "We're continuing to explore the situation. It's still Eddie's desire to be back with the Orioles. As [everybody] knows, things go in all directions, and our lines of communication remain open. What Eddie will want to do remains to be seen. He gave me a couple of other options [teams] to explore.

"We've put his name out there, and we haven't pursued anything with any vigor."

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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