O's keep swinging away in search for DH

December 13, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

In June, the Orioles appeared ready to trade for David Segui but instead acquired Geronimo Berroa. Nearly six months later, they appeared ready to keep Berroa but instead signed Joe Carter after again pursuing Segui.

Are we having fun yet?

Not if the Orioles remain unsettled at DH.

The position is their Bermuda Triangle, in part because Paul Molitor has spurned them twice in the past three years for his hometown Minnesota Twins.

When it happened again last Sunday, the Orioles retained Harold Baines as their left-handed DH by offering him salary arbitration. They appeared ready to take the same path with their right-handed DH, Berroa.

"We think Berroa and Baines will give us the same or better production than any one guy," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "We think the combination will serve us well."

So, why the sudden shift to Carter?

General manager Pat Gillick, who acquired Carter and Roberto Alomar for the Toronto Blue Jays seven years ago, declined to comment.

"I really don't know what happened," said Berroa's agent, Adam Katz. "We were in discussions. The Orioles, quite frankly, surprised me and went in another direction. I feel a little bit blindsided.

"It happened abruptly, and I'm not pleased," Katz said. "The Orioles, in my judgment, are going to regret it. I think Geronimo is a far more productive player than Joe Carter."

The Orioles, though, will attempt to trade Berroa before the Dec. 20 deadline to tender a contract. Asked what the Carter signing meant, he said, "It probably means we'll make another move."

What kind of move?

"Hopefully, we'll try to make a trade," Gillick said.

Gillick confirmed that the Orioles expressed interest in Segui, who makes better contact than either Carter or Berroa, but hits for less power.

Segui, 31, signed a two-year, $4.75 million contract yesterday with the Seattle Mariners. His agent, Tommy Tanzer, said the Orioles became interested only recently -- after souring on Berroa.

"With Kevin Malone, why wouldn't David want to go there?" Tanzer said, referring to the Montreal link between Segui and the Orioles' assistant GM.

"It's a great city. But they were very late. We talked about it very early. Peter [Angelos] wouldn't do it. He had his guys. Something happened with them and Berroa. Then they got interested again, and it was too late.

"The Orioles would have paid the money necessary. But [Segui] is a first baseman. He wants to be a first baseman. He needs to be a first baseman."

So, that left Carter.

Berroa, who turns 33 in March, is five years younger. His on-base percentage last season was 85 points higher (.369-.284). His batting average against left-handed pitching was almost 70 points better (.358-.289).

Carter, though, is a better outfielder, and he signed for $3.3 million. Chili Davis will average $4.9 million in his new two-year deal with the Yankees. Gillick projected it would take at least $4.5 million in arbitration to keep Berroa.

Maybe the Orioles got a bargain, at least by today's ridiculous standards. They certainly got older the last two days by adding Doug Drabek, 35, and Carter, 37. It remains to be seen whether they'll get better.

Sure, Drabek will eat up innings, but it won't mean much if his ERA is again 5.74. Indeed, he's frightening for the same reason that Carter is appealing -- the home run potential of Camden Yards.

Drabek allowed 30 homers last season for the Chicago White Sox. He won a Cy Young with Ray Miller as his pitching coach in Pittsburgh, so a revival is possible. Then again, he could prove to be the next Shawn Boskie.

Carter, too, could go either way, even though his recent track record is more encouraging. In 10 of the last 12 seasons, he has produced more than 100 RBIs. The only exceptions were 1988 -- when he finished with 98 -- and the strike-shortened season of 1995.

So, why even question this move? Well, Carter batted .234 and struck out 105 times last season. And he was no better than the third choice of the Blue Jays, the team that scored the fewest runs in the American League.

The Jays wanted Molitor, and when they couldn't get him, they signed Mike Stanley for $2.5 million. Stanley gets on base more than Carter, strikes out less and is more comfortable as a DH. Carter batted .198 in that role last season.

Of course, part of his problem was playing for the punchless Blue Jays, and batting third and fourth in front of hitters like Ed Sprague and Shawn Green.

"I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but there wasn't a lot of protection around him last year," Gillick said. "He was almost naked over there. The people we have in the lineup will help him a lot. I've got a hunch he might have a big year."

Indeed, the possibilities are endless for a fly-ball hitter at Camden Yards, but it wasn't as if Berroa was such a flop. He had 10 homers and 48 RBIs in his half-season with the Orioles. And he batted .324 in the postseason.

Maybe the Orioles didn't think he was worth the money. Maybe certain team officials soured on him. Whatever, the DHs keep coming. From Bobby Bonilla to Eddie Murray to Pete Incaviglia. From Berroa to Baines to Carter.

Pub Date: 12/13/97

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