As market opens, O's look to bag Smoltz Cubs' Navarro No. 2 on pitching wish list

November 15, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The free-agent market opens today, and the Orioles want to sign NL Cy Young Award winner John Smoltz.

But then, Bob Dole wanted to be president, and we'd all like a new car. Smoltz probably won't leave the Atlanta Braves, and assuming the Orioles don't get him, they'll turn their sights on other free-agent pitchers, with Chicago Cubs right-hander Jaime Navarro probably the best of the "B" group.

The Orioles also would like to re-sign left-hander David Wells, and sign center fielder Darryl Hamilton and a shortstop -- Kevin Elster and Shawon Dunston are probably the two most attractive targets.

They are expected to sever ties today with three potential free agents, players they could keep by offering them arbitration: designated hitter Eddie Murray, catcher Mark Parent and right fielder Bobby Bonilla. General manager Pat Gillick said Wednesday that the Orioles may not have enough money to pay Murray what he wants, $1 million to $1.5 million per year. League sources indicate the Orioles approached other teams about trading for the rights to Bonilla, but were rebuffed. If the Orioles don't offer Bonilla arbitration, he'll become a free agent and the Orioles won't get a draft pick when he signs elsewhere.

The Orioles, who have 48 hours to announce their intentions on Bonilla, Murray, Parent and pitcher Jesse Orosco, are expected to offer arbitration to Orosco, a valuable part of the bullpen the past two seasons.

By dumping Bonilla and his potential $5 million salary, the Orioles have cleared some money to go after pitching. Smoltz likely will get a four- for five-year deal worth something in the neighborhood of $6.5 million per year. His first inclination is and always has been to return to the Braves.

"I really believe things will work out [with the Braves]," Smoltz told the Associated Press. "I do. But I've also seen a lot of things that have taken a turn."

The Orioles, Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins all have expressed interest in Smoltz, and their presence probably will do nothing more than drive up the bidding. But if Atlanta -- which must attempt to re-sign superstar pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux next year -- should drop out when the bidding skyrockets, the Orioles would become serious contenders.

The Orioles also have expressed interest in Roger Clemens. That overture is unlikely to pan out; Clemens wants a four-year deal for something around $6 million per year, a steep price for a 34-year-old pitcher who's averaged 10 wins the past four seasons and is prone to arm problems. Clemens would like to go back to Boston or sign with Houston or Texas.

Navarro, 29, has no such allegiances to his former team, the Cubs. He could've exercised a $3.6 million option to stay with the Cubs, but Navarro decided to test the market. He's drawing tremendous interest. The Red Sox, Indians, Colorado Rockies and several other teams are lining up to take a shot at the durable right-hander, who has pitched at least 200 innings in five of his past six seasons.

Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone said yesterday that he doesn't expect any quick signings. "I hope we're more calculating, and we're steady," he said.

The Orioles have five more days before they must set their 40-man roster. If they cut Bonilla, Murray and Parent today, they'll have 33 players, leaving seven spots open. "We're going to keep several spots available for players we might sign, possible trades or for the Rule 5 draft," said Malone.

The Orioles also intend to add a handful of minor-leaguers, thereby protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. They'll probably add first baseman Tommy Davis, a second-round pick in 1994 who played at Double-A Bowie, and pitcher Julio Moreno, who went 9-10 with a 3.50 ERA for Single-A Frederick.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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