O's 'very optimistic' on Hammonds, Tarasco Gillick awaits response after exchanging figures

January 21, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles general manager Pat Gillick still is waiting to hear from representatives for arbitration-eligible players Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Tarasco after exchanging 1998 salary figures on Monday.

But one day after expressing some doubts that the sides would reach a compromise, Gillick said, "We're optimistic. We're very optimistic."

The Orioles submitted an offer of $1.3 million to Hammonds, who countered with $1.85 million, and $340,000 to Tarasco, who is seeking $485,000. Arbitration hearings would begin early next month if agreements can't be reached.

The club avoided that step with reliever Armando Benitez, signing the right-hander to a one-year, $900,000 contract on Monday.

"We're going to wait and see what develops," Gillick said. "They're the ones who filed for arbitration, we didn't. So, consequently, we've responded and now we feel the next response should come from them."

Hammonds, 26, has some strong points in his favor if the sides go to arbitration. The fourth overall selection in the 1992 draft, he established career highs in games (118), at-bats (397), runs (71), hits (105), total bases (193), doubles (19), triples (three), home runs (21) and RBIs (55). He had three two-homer games, also the most of his career.

But Hammonds batted only .185 (23-for-124) after July 21, and his playing time became more sporadic because of a strained left Achilles' tendon that was a constant source of concern for then-manager Davey Johnson.

With Brady Anderson, B. J. Surhoff and Eric Davis in place,

Hammonds also loses leverage by entering spring training as the club's fourth outfielder. However, manager Ray Miller has said he will take a cautious approach with Davis, who continues his return from colon cancer surgery. That would create more opportunities for Hammonds if he remains with the club.

His name occasionally comes up in trade rumors, the latest involving the Philadelphia Phillies, who might jettison closer Ricky Bottalico.

Jeff Moorad, Hammonds' agent, didn't return phone calls yesterday.

The $145,000 gap between the Orioles and Tarasco is the smallest among the 23 American League players eligible for arbitration.

"Most cases settle, statistically speaking," said Tarasco's agent, Jeff Borris of Beverly Hills Sports Council. "We have a very good relationship with Baltimore. I certainly don't want to engage in a fight with these guys. I don't think the difference is that large that both sides can't bend a little bit and consummate a deal."

Tarasco, 27, batted .205 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 100 games. Limited mostly to pinch-hitting duty as the year progressed, he went 3-for-37 (.081) from July 20 until the end of the season and wasn't included on the playoff roster. Borris said he has been told by the Orioles that they're "actively involved in trying to trade Tony."

"We hope he's traded before spring training because their outfield is stacked and the prospects that Tony might play are remote," Borris said. "I believe he could start for a lot of major-league clubs, and if Baltimore could get something in return that they consider of value, then hopefully he'll be traded before spring training."

Borris said he'll receive a trial date in about three days and has no set time to call the Orioles. Feb. 2 is the earliest an arbitration hearing can be scheduled.

"I always believe people react to deadlines," he said. "If Tarasco's case is one of the first ones, that obviously would speed things up."

Meanwhile, the Orioles announced yesterday they have agreed to terms with the following players on 1998 contracts: right-handers Chris Fussell, Steve Montgomery, Billy Percibal and Sidney Ponson, catcher Charlie Greene, infielder Carlos Casimiro and outfielder Eugene Kingsale.

Montgomery was the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year after going 10-5 with a 3.10 ERA at Double-A Bowie. Greene appeared in five games with the Orioles and collected his first major-league RBI after being claimed off waivers from the New York Mets on Sept. 11. All seven players are on the 40-man roster and will be invited to spring training.

Also, the New York Yankees claimed right-hander Hector Ramirez off waivers. The Orioles had designated Ramirez for assignment on Jan. 9 to make room on the 40-man roster for reliever Norm Charlton.

Ramirez, acquired by the Orioles in March for shortstop Manny Alexander, was 8-7 with a 4.91 ERA at Triple-A Rochester. He appeared in 39 games and made nine starts.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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