Leiter could be O's pick of day Fla. lefty for Berroa, young pitcher possible in post-draft flurry

November 18, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX -- Like every other organization, the Orioles will lose at least two players in today's expansion draft that serves as an incubator for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

At the same time, general manager Pat Gillick may be prepared to trade for Florida Marlins left-hander Al Leiter amid an anticipated flurry of deals after the draft.

A deal likely would hinge on either expansion team drafting Leiter, then dealing him to the Orioles for a package of players. While Gillick acknowledges talks involving Leiter, he downplayed the possibility of anything imminent.

Gillick said an unsettled roster, the uncertain status of free agents Randy Myers and Brady Anderson, and the lack of ready talent at Triple-A Rochester have conspired to clog the process. Gillick said yesterday that he is prepared to field a starting outfield of B. J. Surhoff, Jeffrey Hammonds and Eric Davis if center fielder Anderson leaves.

"We want to keep our three starters and we want to keep our back-end bullpen guys," Gillick said. "We want to sign Myers. We want to get Brady back. Right now, I really don't know what we can trade."

Outfielder/designated hitter Geronimo Berroa represents one possibility, as do reliever Alan Mills and minor-league arms such as Rick Krivda, Rocky Coppinger and Julio Moreno.

"We have some minor-league guys, but I think probably other people have more significant players they can give up than we can," Gillick said. "We have some guys, but the well's kind of run dry a little bit."

Leiter, a 32-year-old left-hander, finished last season 11-9 with a 4.34 ERA in 27 starts and 151 1/3 innings. He struck out 132 and allowed opponents a .241 batting average while struggling with control and consistency. His 91 walks led the Marlins. Leiter received $2.9 million last year and is scheduled to earn $3.2 million next season, the final year of a three-year contract. Gillick is familiar with Leiter given both were in the Toronto Blue Jays' organization from 1989-95.

Gillick tried to sign Leiter as a free agent before the 1996 season but was outbid by the Marlins.

The pursuit of Leiter represents a telling admission by the Orioles. Interested in National League Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez and former Oriole Kevin Brown, the Orioles are unable to keep up with other clubs willing to deal a package of prospects. The Boston Red Sox are thought to lead the Martinez sweepstakes and the St. Louis Cardinals are pressing for Brown.

"I just don't think we have a lot of people to trade," Gillick said. "We couldn't trade Surhoff, Hammonds or Davis. We don't want to trade Davis and I don't think people would accept him" because of health questions.

The Marlins reportedly have exposed Leiter to the draft for financial reasons. The world champions already have dealt outfielder Moises Alou to the Houston Astros and are trying to trade third baseman Bobby Bonilla, outfielder Gary Sheffield, closer Robb Nen and Brown.

A trade for Leiter could include Berroa and a young pitcher. Berroa, who made $3.3 million last season, is arbitration-eligible and the Orioles are not eager to assume his expanded salary.

The Orioles have interest in several free-agent pitchers, most notably Darryl Kile, Andy Benes and Wilson Alvarez. And, according to Gillick, improving the staff via free agency still appears more likely than finalizing a trade.

Though buoyed by the on-field success of their minor-league teams -- their affiliates finished with the third-best cumulative record in baseball -- the Orioles are still seen as prospect-poor. They protected four players with less than a year of major-league experience -- Eugene Kingsale, Danny Clyburn, Nerio Rodriguez and Sidney Ponson -- but exposed pitchers Krivda, Moreno and Esteban Yan.

Moreno, a standout at Double-A Bowie last season, is considered a leading candidate to be lost. He may have been protected had owner Peter Angelos not overruled Gillick's initial decision to expose first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.

Others exposed include Coppinger, outfielder David Dellucci, infielder Aaron Ledesma, switch-hitting catcher Melvin Rosario and catcher Jim Foster. The Orioles did not protect a catcher, including Chris Hoiles, whose defensive shortcomings, hefty contract and injury-marred season should keep him safe.

Gillick said he is "concerned" about the fallout from tonight's draft. Yet the Orioles will likely be one of 14 teams to lose only two players. (They also lost only two players, pitchers Kip Yaughn and Richie Lewis, in the 1992 draft.)

Gillick said yesterday he has offered Myers a two-year contract plus an option. Gillick would not confirm the financial terms of the offer to the closer, but the first two years are believed to approach $9.6 million.

Myers, 35, earned $3.95 million while converting 45 of 46 save chances last season. In return, Myers placed fourth in voting for American League MVP, the highest finish by any pitcher.

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