Securing the veteran offensive presence they needed while avoiding the clubhouse disruption they feared, the Orioles yesterday traded for Chicago White Sox designated hitter Harold Baines in return for a player to be named believed to be minor-league shortstop Juan Bautista.
The move was finalized at about 6 p.m. after the two teams had reached agreement Monday night. For the Orioles, Baines fills a long-standing need for left-handed depth. For the White Sox, who apparently don't believe themselves legitimate contenders, the deal was certainly a salary dump.
Baines, 38, represents an easy fit within a veteran clubhouse. The Eastern Shore native played for the Orioles from 1993 to '95, hitting 60 home runs with 195 RBIs, before the club allowed him to return to Chicago via free agency.
Yesterday's move probably represents only a pause rather than an end to general manager Pat Gillick's midseason tinkering as he still seeks to improve the league's most successful pitching staff before tomorrow night's trade deadline.
"I would think there's a good possibility we might do something before the deadline," Gillick said.
Gillick had been concentrating on several DH-type hitters, including Baines, Kansas City's Chili Davis, Montreal's David Segui and Boston's Mike Stanley. However, Royals general manager Herk Robinson pulled Davis from the market last weekend and Segui recently has been limited by knee problems. Baines had been discussed before last month's acquisition of Geronimo Berroa from the Oakland Athletics.
Describing the trade for Baines as "between fine-tuning and a need," Gillick said, "When you get in the last 60 games of the season, whatever the position, you want experienced guys. They've done it before. They know what it's all about. The pressure doesn't bother them."
Few players fit the description of "professional hitter" better than Baines, a career American Leaguer whose number has been retired by the White Sox. A career .290 hitter with 335 home runs, Baines has slammed 16 to 24 home runs in 15 of the last 16 seasons. In 93 games with the White Sox this season, Baines was hitting .305 with 12 home runs and 52 RBIs. Gillick declined to speculate on Baines' role, but it appears likely manager Davey Johnson will platoon him with right-handed-hitting DH Berroa.
Of Berroa, who endured a brutal start in Baltimore before finding his stroke recently, Gillick said, "I think he's done a good job. I think he was pressing a little bit, but overall I think he's relaxed and hit the ball pretty well.
"I think Geronimo's real value is going to come out when we start playing left-handed pitching. We're going to face some left-handed pitching with Seattle and California and when we get back against New York. Geronimo's valuable in the mix."
Berroa is hitting .229 with four home runs and 18 RBIs since coming to the Orioles on June 27. An abysmal early transition still skews those numbers. Berroa also could receive time in right field to spell Jeffrey Hammonds.
"I've said this before: I don't think we're ever comfortable. You always want to get better," Gillick said before last night's game against the Texas Rangers. "I think Harold makes us somewhat better than we were. I think Berroa made us somewhat better when we acquired him. We're not going to take a giant step but we're going to take a few small ones."
If there is another "small step," it would likely be for a starting pitcher, preferably a left-hander. The Orioles have focused much of their attention on John Smiley and Pete Schourek of the Cincinnati Reds and the Royals' Kevin Appier.
According to Gillick, the perfect fit would bring the Orioles a 29- or 30-year-old arm who could help the team beyond this year's pennant stretch.
"This is the 29th and we still have two more days," Gillick said. "I can't tell you what might happen in the next 48 hours."
Whatever the move, it will not be for Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, according to Gillick. The chances that the All-Star catcher will be dealt increased dramatically yesterday when the Rangers dealt pitcher Ken Hill to the Anaheim Angels for catcher Jim Leyritz and a player to be named.
Rangers manager Johnny Oates said Leyritz will receive significant playing time regardless of what happens with Rodriguez, a potential free agent after this season who rejected the team's five-year, $38.2 million offer.
The Orioles realize it would cost several players to secure Rodriguez and then they would face the daunting task of signing him while contract talks with center fielder Brady Anderson are ongoing. Within the framework of a pennant race, such an issue would represent an unwanted "distraction," according to Gillick.
"I think our team is pretty focused," Gillick said. "We've been through a little bit of a lull there. I think our team the last week since we left Texas has been pretty focused. I don't think we want any distractions right now.