KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles were drubbed in Kauffman Stadium but gained in the clubhouse last night as they secured a much-desired starting pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Juan Guzman, for rookie pitcher Nerio Rodriguez and 19-year-old outfield prospect Shannon Carter.
In fortifying their starting rotation, the move satisfied every condition general manager Pat Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone had laid out for a possible acquisition. Guzman, 31, provides help not only for this year's improbable run at the wild card but beyond. The Orioles also kept the core of their club intact while refraining from sacrificing any of their premium prospects.
The move was announced three hours before last night's 9-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals, which left the Orioles nine games behind Boston in the wild-card chase.
"I like what we did. I think we helped ourselves," said Gillick. "You always like to set your sights higher, but I think we're better now."
"We've got a long road ahead of us and the odds are long. But I think they improved a little bit today," manager Ray Miller said. "You've got to have everything but it all starts with your starting pitching. He's a quality guy."
The Orioles immediately anointed Guzman their No. 3 starter and scheduled him to start next Wednesday's home game against Detroit. Guzman, a gifted arm but perennial health risk, gives the Orioles a decided advantage over the Red Sox in the top tier of their rotation.
"I like our one through three," said Miller. "I like our four and five, too."
As the Blue Jays conceded their season, Gillick also made a late pitch for incumbent Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens but failed to stir interest. "We made an offer but never got a call back," said Gillick.
Initially fixated by St. Louis Cardinals pending free agent Todd Stottlemyre and Montreal Expos left-hander Carlos Perez, the Orioles opted for Guzman because of "out of line" personnel demands. The Cardinals wanted pitcher Sidney Ponson along with untouchable third base prospect Ryan Minor. The Expos wanted at least two prospects who could help them in 1999. A late run for Seattle Mariners ace Randy Johnson brought a demand for Ponson plus two other prospects, one of them believed to be first baseman Calvin Pickering.
The Orioles doggedly refused to include Ponson, Minor, Pickering, Chris Fussell, Jayson Werth, Darnell McDonald or Matt Riley in any trade talks. They were also reluctant to subtract from the core of their major-league clubhouse.
With the Blue Jays, the Orioles found a team more interested in clearing salary than instant gratification.
The deal for Guzman almost occurred Thursday but the Orioles requested further medical reports on a pitcher who underwent surgery last September to remove a bone spur from behind his right shoulder. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, startled the Orioles by starting Guzman against Texas. Guzman responded with eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win. In his last eight starts, Guzman owns a 2.02 ERA with a 3-4 record.
"I guess it was kind of a process of elimination," Gillick said. "The other guys were beyond what we were willing to do. [Guzman]'s somebody who can help us now and next year."
Guzman earns $5 million this season with the Orioles liable for only a pro-rated share. His contract also includes a club option for $5.25 million in 1999. The option automatically vests at 200 innings, leaving Guzman only 55 innings short.
"I think there were four top pitchers available and [Guzman] was one of them," Miller said. "We got one."
The American League record holder for most wild pitches in a season (26), Guzman has been on the disabled a total of six times in four of eight major-league seasons. Only once has he surpassed 200 innings in a season.
Guzman struggled with his mechanics early this season but has recently returned to the form that at times has made him one of the league's most feared pitchers.
Guzman's arrival means a rapid shakeout among the rotation. Miller bumped Jimmy Key from his next start and the move is expected to become permanent. Key lasted only three innings Thursday in his first start since May 20.
Key could possibly fill the need created by left-handed reliever's Arthur Rhodes' absence because of a strained left elbow.
"He'll be used out of the bullpen for a week," Miller said. "That doesn't mean they [Key and Scott Kamieniecki] are going to the bullpen to stay."
Miller recently polled several of his hitters as Gillick and assistant general manager Kevin Malone constructed the deal. Clubhouse feedback rated Guzman as the most difficult pitcher to handle besides Johnson.
Rodriguez, 25, enhanced his value to the Blue Jays with two strong starts. However, he stagnated this season after starting hTC at Triple-A Rochester then reaching the Orioles with shoulder stiffness May 25. The rookie landed on the DL and compiled a 1-3 record and 8.05 ERA in six appearances.
Rodriguez embraced the news. He appeared to have hit a wall with the Orioles but will now enter the Blue Jays' marked-down rotation.
"I'm kind of happy. I've got a better chance now," Rodriguez said. "I want to pitch, but you have to get an opportunity before you can pitch. There's more of an opportunity over there."
Carter, a 19-year-old cousin to recently traded outfielder Joe Carter, was the club's fourth-round selection in the 1997 amateur draft. Carter had failed to impress at Bluefield, where he was batting .247 with one home run and 10 RBI.
Pub Date: 8/01/98