Guzman decides to stay with O's Pitcher's inaction on option to force trade 'great news' for Miller

November 10, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.

The Orioles have yet to sign a much-sought free-agent pitcher, but next season's starting rotation already looks more promising. Rather than flex his leverage to demand a trade, Juan Guzman has decided to remain with the club in hopes that it can contend and that his performance will attract a contract extension next season.

Guzman's decision represents the best personnel news to date in an off-season devoted to dramatic change.

"That's great news," manager Ray Miller said yesterday. "Give us another guy with him in there and things start looking a lot better."

Orioles general manager Frank Wren, attending a meeting of general managers in Naples, Fla., did not return phone calls.

The Orioles acquired Guzman from the Toronto Blue Jays on July 31 for pitcher Nerio Rodriguez and Single-A outfielder Shannon Carter. Guzman's agent, Tony Attanasio, briefly attempted to stir contract talks with the Orioles, but was received coolly.

Because Guzman was traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, he had 15 days after the World Series to demand a trade or a new contract by March 15. That time frame elapsed last Thursday without Guzman exercising his right.

Instead of engaging in off-season brinkmanship, Attanasio said he wanted to work with Wren on a possible extension. Guzman's $5.25 million contract for next season is guaranteed.

Guzman also would have sacrificed free agency after the 1999 season if he was traded following a demand.

"We didn't want to force the issue and have him lose the opportunity to free agency after '99," Attanasio said. "Juan fits comfortably within next year's upper echelon of eligible pitchers."

After undergoing shoulder surgery in September 1997, Guzman finished last season 10-16 with a 4.35 ERA, including a 4-4 mark and 4.23 ERA with the Orioles. His time in Baltimore was marked by inconsistency that included a less-than-invigorating finish but seemed to answer questions about his soundness.

"I thought he was outstanding," said Miller. "I thought he lost a little bit at 85-90 pitches and he probably would resent anybody saying that. But that's natural for anyone coming off surgery.

"I liked everything about him. He's got a real good idea of what he's doing. You look at how many low-scoring games he lost and it puts his numbers in a different light."

Had Guzman demanded and received a trade, he would have been subject to "repeater's rights" and not been able to seek free agency until after the 2002 season. Guzman instead would have been arbitration-eligible.

The Orioles still could trade Guzman to fill one of their several position shortages.

"He's either going to be there for one year or they'll trade him," said Attanasio. "If they keep him and he pitches well, then they're going to end up paying a lot of money. We weighed this very carefully."

So, too, did the Orioles. Rather than rush into a multi-year commitment, they want to see Guzman hold up for at least several months next season.

"By the absence of a call I assume they have no interest in doing anything. I assume they'll look at him in June. Of course, it will cost a lot more then," Attanasio said. "By waiting, I anticipate we'll be negotiating from a position of strength."

Guzman, 32, currently projects as the Orioles' No. 3 starter behind Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson. However, Miller and Wren prefer to dip the 1996 American League ERA leader to No. 4 with the addition of a premium free-agent arm such as Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown or Todd Stottlemyre, another Attanasio client. The Orioles also may pursue David Cone should the New York Yankees right-hander choose this week not to exercise his option for next season.

Sidney Ponson, Scott Kamieniecki and Rocky Coppinger represent the alternatives as No. 5 starter barring the addition of a No. 2 starter.

Guzman underwent surgery to remove a bone spur behind his right shoulder in 1997 and remains something of a durability question. He pitched 200 innings last season for the first time since 1993.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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