O's swing contract for Baines Veteran lefty's bat to complement Carter at DH, help off bench

O's his 'best shot' at ring

Tarasco, Hammonds pacts tendered today

December 20, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A busy off-season for the Orioles produced more activity yesterday when they agreed to terms with designated hitter Harold Baines on a one-year contract, allowing the St. Michaels resident to stay close to home and avoid going through #i arbitration.

Baines, 38, had said all along he wanted to remain with the Orioles, who acquired him in a trade with the Chicago White Sox on July 29. And club officials wanted his left-handed bat off the bench and as an alternative at DH to right-handed-hitting Joe Carter, who signed as a free agent earlier this month.

Yesterday, both sides got their way.

"I'm glad to be back with the Orioles," said Baines, who will enter his 19th season with a $1.15 million contract, the same base salary as last season. "This is my area, where I'm from. Baltimore has a great team and I want to be a part of it."

That meant spurning the New York Yankees, who reportedly offered Baines more money before signing Chili Davis last week.

"I'm at the tender age where I need a [championship] ring. Baltimore's going to be my best shot," Baines said.

The Orioles were happy to have him back.

"Harold made a contribution last year when he came over, and this gives us a little more versatility with him and Joe, left and right," said general manager Pat Gillick. "And if he's not playing, it gives us a great hitter off the bench. There are a lot of ways you can go with Harold in the offensive department."

The appeal of the soft-spoken Baines to the Orioles extends beyond statistics.

"Harold's one of the class acts in baseball," Gillick said. "He's a wonderful player and a wonderful human being, an ideal person."

Yesterday was the deadline for Baines to accept the Orioles' salary arbitration offer. He never intended for the proceedings to stretch beyond that.

"I've never been through one and I didn't want to," he said. "[In arbitration] everybody brings up bad thoughts and negative things going into the upcoming season, from what I hear from other players."

Baines, a favorite of owner Peter Angelos, batted .291 with four home runs in 44 games after the trade. Including his first stint here, from 1993 to 1995, he has a .301 average, 64 homers and 210 RBIs with the Orioles.

A career .290 hitter, Baines enters next season ranked second all-time among DHs with 1,331 games and 191 homers, and third in RBIs with 792.

Overall, he's tied with Fred McGriff, Dave Parker and former Oriole Boog Powell for 54th place on baseball's home run list with 339.

And he helps give the Orioles the game's three active RBI leaders -- Cal Ripken (1,453), Baines (1,423) and Carter (1,382).

"He's such a professional, a quiet, yet hard-working and very talented person," manager Ray Miller said of Baines. "He's a quality person and an outstanding DH against tough right-handers and a heck of a pinch-hitter. He's a very valuable tool."

Miller was the Orioles' pitching coach when Baines broke into the majors with the White Sox in 1980. "It took three years before I realized how good he was because he never drew any attention to himself. He just went about his job. The next year, I'd look it up and say, 'Wow, this guy hit .300 against us,' " Miller said.

To make room for Baines on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Willis Otanez for assignment.

Otanez, who had surgery on his right elbow in June, batted .208 in 49 games at Triple-A Rochester and .333 in 19 games at Double-A Bowie.

The addition of Carter has a direct effect on Baines, who brings another touch of gray to an aging roster. The Orioles aren't paying Carter $3.3 million next year to sit, and he figures to get the majority of at-bats as DH. Unlike Baines, Carter also can play some in the outfield, spelling B. J. Surhoff in left or Eric Davis in right, and Rafael Palmeiro at first base.

"It's all about winning. You can't be selfish going into it. I'm just going in there open-minded and will try to do my job," Baines said.

Looking at the prospect of entering the season with outfielders Surhoff, Davis, Brady Anderson and Jeffrey Hammonds, plus Carter and Baines, Miller said there will be "plenty of at-bats for everyone."

"It gives you a tremendous amount of options, a lot more flexibility. There's still concern about how Eric bounces back from chemo, and I'd like to protect Eric a little bit. There's a lot of variables," he said.

"One of the things we were lacking last year was a bench. This gives us more depth."

Carter's signing apparently ended Geronimo Berroa's stay with the Orioles. A trade hasn't been worked out, and with a midnight deadline approaching to tender contracts to players eligible for arbitration, Gillick said there was a 90 percent chance Berroa wouldn't be coming back.

Gillick said outfielder Tony Tarasco, who was kept off the postseason roster, would be tendered a contract today, along with Hammonds and reliever Armando Benitez.

Club officials expect to release the 1998 schedule next week and announce any ticket price increases at Camden Yards.

Pub Date: 12/20/97

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