Vintage O's sign Carter Five-time All-Star, '93 Series hero agrees to 1-year, $3.3M deal

Adds outfield, DH depth

At 37, he brings power, age to graying roster

December 13, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

For the second time in as many days the Orioles yesterday attempted to make themselves better by getting older. Moving quickly, they signed free-agent outfielder/designated hitter Joe Carter -- the game's second-leading active home run hitter -- to a one-year, $3.3 million contract.

The acquisition of Carter, a five-time All-Star and former World Series hero, gives the Orioles one of the game's most consistent run-producers. It also adds another graybeard to a clubhouse fitted for a frantic push at a World Series.

Carter, who has 378 career home runs and 1,382 RBIs, turns 38 in March. His addition leaves little room for Geronimo Berroa, last year's right-handed designated hitter and sometimes right fielder. The Orioles will attempt to trade Berroa in the next week but are prepared to not tender him a contract if he remains on the roster at the Dec. 20 deadline for doing so.

Carter, meanwhile, joins a roster that offers few guarantees beyond next season. Saying he had no interest in pushing for a multi-year deal, Carter believes 1998 likely will be his last.

"I wanted to play one more year," Carter said. "I know there's a lot more to life than baseball but I want to go out with a bang and this is a way to go out with a bang. I feel I can be productive. I know I can be. I feel the fire is still burning."

There is no truth to a rumor that the Orioles plan to leave Camden Yards for Jurassic Park, but they are virtually assured of beginning next season with baseball's oldest clubhouse.

Only five members of their projected Opening Day roster are under 30 while seven will be 35 or older. Signing Carter one day after landing 35-year-old free-agent pitcher Doug Drabek bumped the team's average age to 32 years, 3 months.

Likewise, the Orioles now have the game's three leading active RBI men -- Cal Ripken (1,453), Harold Baines (1,423) and Carter (1,382). Carter has produced more than 100 RBIs in 10 of the last 12 seasons.

General manager Pat Gillick, who had previously tried to trade for Carter, sought Carter after failing to land another former Blue Jay and his first choice, Paul Molitor, who instead returned to the Minnesota Twins. The Orioles offered Molitor a one-year, $4 million deal

The Anaheim Angels and Twins had expressed the most serious interest in Carter until the Orioles became involved late Wednesday. The $3.3 million offer combined with Carter's respect for Gillick overwhelmed what already was on the table.

"I couldn't think of a better person to work for," Carter said. "We've been away for four years, and it impressed me he still knew the ages of all my kids."

Carter also cited the atmosphere and fan support surrounding the club as affecting his decision.

The Orioles hope he can serve as a steadying force, possibly while hitting behind Rafael Palmeiro. A chorus line of designated hitters gave the Orioles only 16 home runs and 70 RBIs last season.

"I think I can bring to the club some versatility," said Carter, who last year served as Blue Jays designated hitter for 64 games, played 83 games in the outfield and another 10 at first base. "I'm not a guy who can play just one role. I can do an adequate job in right field, left field and then I can DH. One or two days out of the year, if we face a big left-handed pitcher like Randy Johnson, maybe I can fill in [at first base] for Rafael Palmeiro if he wants a day off.

"It's good to be able to play a lot of positions. It gives Ray [Miller] a lot more advantages."

Gillick confirmed the desire to move Carter around, especially against left-handed pitching. He indicated Carter would likely see time in left field, meaning B. J. Surhoff could find fewer at-bats against left-handers. Carter has missed only 48 games the past 12 seasons. Last year he batted .234 with 21 home runs and 102 RBIs in 157 games. Carter's .284 on-base percentage was the lowest of his career and his .399 slugging percentage was the second-lowest.

The only player to hit 20 home runs in each of the past 12 seasons, Carter played on the Blue Jays' world championship teams in 1992 and 1993 and is best-known for hitting the game-winning home run off Mitch Williams that gave Toronto its Game 6 clincher over the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993.

"I'm not only a player who can play a lot of positions. I've been there before. I've won two world championships," he said.

"This is my 15th year. I know what a leadership quality is. Knowing I can come to the ballpark and play every single day in some place new gives an extra excitement, an extra motivation."

Gillick said Carter gives the Orioles more depth. While Berroa possesses a dangerous bat, his glove was sometimes lethal. Though many scouts believe Carter's bat speed and foot speed have eroded in recent years, he is not considered a defensive liability.

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