O's, Padres have talks about Japanese pitcher Yankees, 3 other teams also interested in Irabu

March 06, 1997|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles general manager Pat Gillick said last week that he's looking for another front-line starting pitcher. Someone like Hideki Irabu, apparently.

Orioles officials contacted the San Diego Padres yesterday about acquiring the hard-throwing Japanese right-hander, who, after a prolonged battle over his rights, has said he won't sign with San Diego. The Orioles are competing against several teams in bidding for Irabu, 27, but according to one source familiar with the negotiations, the Padres hoped the Orioles would become involved, because they have some commodities that interest San Diego:

Reliever Jesse Orosco lives in San Diego during the off-season and would have signed with the Padres if the Orioles allowed him to become a free agent last November. The Padres need a left-hander to bolster their bullpen, and Orosco has been one of the game's most effective relievers the past two years.

Minor-league pitching prospect Sidney Ponson is seen by many as the crown jewel of the Orioles' farm system. Ponson lost weight last season and pitched extremely well for Single-A Frederick and in the Arizona Fall League. Ponson was invited to spring training, and though he was reassigned to the club's minor-league camp in Sarasota, his seriousness has been noted. "He's on a mission to get to the big leagues," Orioles pitching consultant Mike Flanagan said.

Outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds was drafted in 1992, when Larry Lucchino was president of the Orioles. Lucchino is now president of the Padres.

The Padres also are talking to the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants, as well as the New York Yankees, the team Irabu wants to play for; the aggressiveness of the Yankees caused a split between Irabu and the Padres.

The Padres, enthralled by Irabu -- whose fastball reportedly has been clocked at 100 mph -- arranged a working agreement with Irabu's team, the Chiba Lotte Marines. They made a trade with Chiba Lotte, acquiring Irabu's rights.

However, the Yankees made it known they were willing to pay millions for Irabu's services, and since then, Irabu has said repeatedly that it has been his dream to pitch for New York. Baseball's Executive Council ruled the Padres hold Irabu's rights, and that the Yankees couldn't sign the pitcher.

However, the Padres probably won't be able to sign Irabu, leaving them with little option but to trade the pitcher. Lucchino met Dom Nomura, on Tuesday to discuss Irabu's demands, and in the with Irabu's agent, aftermath of that discussion, the Padres continued to field trade proposals.

The Yankees offered a package of two players and $3 million, which San Diego rejected outright; the Padres responded by asking for shortstop Derek Jeter, a prospect and $4 million, a sign that San Diego won't deal seriously with the Yankees.

But they are apparently interested in hearing what the Orioles have to offer. Gillick said Tuesday that the Orioles weren't interested in Irabu. Yesterday, after club officials spoke with the Padres, assistant general manager Kevin Malone said he would neither "confirm or deny" any discussions are taking place.

Irabu went 12-6 with a 2.40 ERA for Chiba Lotte last season.

Orioles today

Exhibition opponent: Montreal Expos

Site: West Palm Beach, Fla.

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: None

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina vs. Expos' Pedro Martinez

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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