Hammonds dealt for Reds' Greene O's gain power bat plus versatility at 3B, first base and outfield

Insurance for long term

Cincinnati's demand for cash is dropped

August 11, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Three days of wrangling between the Orioles and Cincinnati Reds ended yesterday afternoon. So, too, did the Orioles' frustrating relationship with outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

In a swap of organizational riddles, the Orioles traded Hammonds for Reds outfielder/third baseman Willie Greene. Both teams celebrated their good fortune. The Reds acquired a potential everyday center fielder in Hammonds while the Orioles obtained a power-hitting left-handed bat who provides immediate depth and long-term insurance against possible free-agent defectors.

A deal that seemed all but certain Saturday night only to become endangered Sunday was consummated when the Reds dropped a demand that the Orioles pay them $1 million with Hammonds. The concession erased lingering opposition from majority owner Peter Angelos, and a deal was quickly struck.

The Orioles spoke as much about their subtraction as their acquisition.

Hammonds, 27, teased the club ever since it made him the fourth player selected in the 1992 draft. Various injuries that landed him on the disabled list each of the last six seasons eventually cost him the organization's confidence.

"It' a business, and we felt Willie Greene was going to be able to help us win more games now and in the future," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said.

A powerful left-handed hitter considered no better than average defensively, Greene provides Miller an additional left-handed bat in the near term.

More significantly, Greene, 26, fits the Orioles' stated desire of a player who may help more in the long term. Capable of playing first base, left field and right field along with third, Greene represents a fallback position should the Orioles fail to re-sign pending free agents such as Rafael Palmeiro, B. J. Surhoff, Harold Baines andEric Davis. Palmeiro is considered the greatest risk to leave.

"The key is flexibility and versatility, not just as far as this 25-man roster but for the future. It gives us security if one of our pending free agents decides to look for greener pastures," Malone said.

Reds general manager Jim Bowden attempted to press the Orioles for 1997 first-round draft pick Darnell McDonald but was rebuffed. McDonald represented a $1.95 million investment to the club, which had signed him away from a football scholarship at the University of Texas. Bowden responded by asking the Orioles to send $1 million along with Hammonds. Angelos considered the bid "larcenous," according to a club source, and immediately rejected the deal.

Bowden finally dropped his monetary demand rather than jeopardize the trade.

Like Hammonds, Greene became a frustration to the Reds, who became weary of lax work habits and considered him difficult to motivate.

Malone did not dispute that concerns exist over Greene. ("He's a guy I'm sure we'll learn more about once he's here," he said.) However, Malone also cited the 26 home runs and 91 RBIs Greene gave the Reds in 1997.

Hammonds' best season also came last year when he hit 21 home runs with 55 RBIs in 397 at-bats.

"I love Jeffrey. He can be an exciting player. But he's hurt a lot. That's his track record. If he isn't, he's a pretty good ballplayer," manager Ray Miller said.

"When you talk about committing to the future, you want people who are a little more flexible and who you can count on a little bit more. I just don't feel [with Hammonds] it was going to be any better than what we've seen the last five years."

Greene, 26, hit .270 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs in 111 games for the Reds this season. He appeared in 76 games at third base, 28 games in the outfield and two at shortstop. "I would've liked to have stayed with the Reds but the organization did what they thought was right. Hopefully, it will work out for us," said Greene, tonight's probable starter in right field against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Greene also allows Miller much greater flexibility in manipulating his infield. For most of this season the Orioles have carried only one spare infielder, Jeff Reboulet, making it risky for Miller to commit to middle-inning substitutions.

Club officials moved immediately to defuse speculation that Greene's arrival portends an end to Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak.

"I don't think it changes anything I do with Cal except it allows me the option to give him a break," said Miller, adding, "As far as Cal's streak, if I listed everything that's been a problem this year, Cal would be about No. 20. It's a pleasure to have a guy who you know is going to be on time, give you everything he's got and make some adjustments.

As long as the Orioles remain contenders for the American League wild card, Ripken's place in the lineup will not be debated, according to a club source.

Willie Greene file

Pos.: 3B/OF. Age: 26. Height: 5-11. Weight: 192. Bats: Left. Throws: Right. Career highlights

1997: Had best season of his career, hitting .253 and leading Reds in home runs (26) and RBIs (91). Honored with Ernie Lombardi Award as Cincinnati's team MVP. 1996: Ended first full season in the majors by hitting six home runs in last six games. 1995: Made Reds' Opening Day roster despite batting .161 in spring training.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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