Orioles sign pair, but lose Murray Free-agent OF Walton, catcher Webster added to supporting cast

Murray accepts Angels' offer

Sluggers Vaughn, Davis expect to decide today

December 19, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The Orioles filled a couple of holes by signing free agents yesterday, but Eddie Murray isn't one of the plugs. The future Hall of Famer agreed to a one-year contract with the Anaheim Angels last night, turning down an offer from the Orioles.

"We had to sit down and think about some things and decide," Murray said last night. "There was not a whole lot there [from the Orioles]."

The Orioles signed catcher Lenny Webster, who will be 32 next season, and outfielder Jerome Walton, 31, to minor-league contracts. Both players are expected to be added to the major-league roster in spring training.

The Orioles also are on the verge of adding a slugging outfielder. They have extended offers to Eric Davis and Greg Vaughn, and will probably land one of the two today. Davis, who likely would play center field, is older (34), faster and cheaper. Vaughn, 31, is a more expensive and more powerful hitter. Davis batted .287 with 26 homers, 83 RBIs and 23 stolen bases for Cincinnati in '96, and Vaughn hit 41 homers and drove in 117 runs for Milwaukee and San Diego last season.

Both players are represented by agent Eric Goldschmidt. "I talked to [the Orioles] about both players," Goldschmidt said. "Something will get resolved [today] one way or the other. They're both going to sign. We talked a few times today."

Vaughn, also drawing interest from the Toronto Blue Jays, has been offered arbitration by the Padres, and stands to make in excess of $5.5 million if he accepts that option. "Arbitration has always been a good option for us," said Goldschmidt. "I'd say it's a 50-50 chance."

The Orioles would lose a draft pick if they sign Vaughn -- but not if they sign Davis, also being courted by Philadelphia (Boston and Cleveland had interest, but have pulled back after signing other outfielders).

Murray agreed to a one-year deal with the Angels for a base salary of $750,000, with incentives that would double that if he achieves 500 plate appearances. The Orioles extended an offer with a similar base salary and far fewer incentives. Murray indicated yesterday that it may have come too late. Whereas the Orioles indicated a month ago that they weren't sure if they would have room for Murray on their payroll, Angels GM Bill Bavasi called Murray several times and told him how much he was wanted, how much he was needed.

Murray said, "The Orioles didn't come up until late, once we were getting pretty close with the Angels.

"I appreciated everything Peter Angelos did for me. He got me out of a [tough] situation in Cleveland. And there were a few other little things that were done that were classy, coming around close to 500 [homers]. I have nothing but good things to say about him. He's good people."

Playing for the Orioles the second time, Murray said, "was unbelievable. What actually ended up happening was better than I expected. It was a nice trip back."

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said: "We would have liked to have him back, but I think the fact that he's from L.A., his family's there and he has a chance to finish his career there, it's a good situation for him."

Walton has been a part-time player for the past five years, his best performance in that span coming in 1995, when he played for the Cincinnati Reds and Davey Johnson. That year, he hit eight homers in 162 at-bats, and he nearly signed with the Orioles last winter. Walton signed with Atlanta, however, but missed almost the entire year with a groin injury, hitting .340 in only 37 games.

Walton will get a base salary of about $400,000, plus incentives. "He could be a fourth outfielder," said Orioles assistant GM Kevin Malone. "He could be a third outfielder."

The signing of Walton, a right-handed hitter, places Jeffrey Hammonds in a more precarious spot. The Orioles probably will have only four bench spots, and Hammonds, batting .308 in winter ball, will have an uphill battle to make the team.

Webster came up through the minors in the Minnesota organization, alongside a right-handed pitcher named Scott Erickson, and he developed into Erickson's personal catcher for the Twins. Webster bounced from the Twins to Montreal to Philadelphia and back to Montreal over the last four seasons, jTC hitting .230 with two homers in 78 games for the Expos.

Webster, who will get a base salary of about $350,000 plus incentives, will be the backup to Chris Hoiles, and he'll likely be Erickson's personal catcher once more. "Scott and I are familiar with each other," said Webster.

Jerome Walton file

Data: Outfielder, bats right, throws right, 31 years old Statistically speaking: He produced when he played, batting .340 with a .511 slugging percentage in 1996. He runs OK, stealing 10 bases for the Reds in 1995.

Pluses: He's a good defensive player, and if the Orioles' outfield alignment is Brady Anderson, Eric Davis and B.J. Surhoff, Walton may be used in the late innings in place of Surhoff.

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