Orioles enter bidding for Johnson Powerful left-hander offered 3-year deal

Vaughn, Williams out

November 17, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles have officially entered the bidding for free-agent pitcher Randy Johnson while all but excusing themselves from competition for the market's two most compelling players, first baseman Mo Vaughn and center fielder Bernie Williams, general manager Frank Wren said yesterday.

During an afternoon news conference held to introduce newly signed closer Mike Timlin, Wren also confirmed a modified offer to left fielder B. J. Surhoff, one of the Orioles' seven remaining free agents.

Wren declined to detail the new bid to Surhoff but a source familiar with negotiations said the Orioles bumped their long-standing three-year, $12 million offer to $12.75 million -- halving the difference between their existing bid and Surhoff's demand for $13.5 million. The Orioles technically bid against themselves for Surhoff, who has yet to receive another bid. However, the New York Mets are expected to become involved today.

The Atlanta Braves, on the verge of trading left fielder Ryan Klesko for bullpen help, are also likely to make an offer for Surhoff.

Bidding for Johnson, the intimidating left-hander who split last season between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros, represents a bold move to transform the Orioles' starting rotation into the league's best. Their offer, made over the weekend, according to a source close to the talks, is for three years at less than $10 million a year.

"Our mission is to put together a quality ballclub. We're not in total control of that," he said.

Wren said the "parameters" of Vaughn's asking price are beyond the Orioles. Likewise, Wren spoke yesterday with Williams' agent, Scott Boras, and neither extended a bid nor arranged for a face-to-face meeting.

Asked whether Williams' demands put him out of reach, Wren said: "I think we're getting close to that point."

The Orioles have apparently likewise cooled to another Boras client, free agent and ex-Oriole pitcher Kevin Brown.

Once confident of serving as a broker within the market, the Orioles have become whipsawed by an out-of-control market. When they entered a four-year, $26 million bid for pitcher Todd Stottlemyre they were quickly outdone by the Detroit Tigers.

Outfielder Brian Jordan is to arrive in Baltimore on Thursday after meeting with the Atlanta Braves yesterday and the New York Yankees tomorrow. Even with a four-year offer approaching $30 million, the Orioles are assured nothing.

The Orioles bid for second baseman Jose Offerman but readily stepped aside so the Boston Red Sox could sign him to staggering four-year, $26 million deal.

Interested in securing Offerman to fill the void created by Roberto Alomar's departure, the Orioles projected him as a $5 million player.

"We know we've got some things to address offensively, and those players really haven't started to sign yet," said Wren.

Free agents Surhoff, Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro and Eric Davis accounted for 344 of the Orioles' 817 runs (42.1 percent) last season, 107 of their 214 home runs (50 percent) and 358 of 783 RBIs (45.7 percent).

The foursome includes the team's three leading run-producers and home run hitters. Cal Ripken's 61 RBIs led the club among those signed for next season.

"I think the one thing people might underestimate is the task of replacing or re-signing that number of free agents," Wren said. "There's a lot to that."

The club modified its offer to Palmeiro last Friday but will likely receive competition from the Red Sox.

Dealing with Palmeiro, 34, creates problems regarding length of contract. The Orioles have also been reluctant to make an updated offer to Davis, who challenged for the AL batting title at 36.

"I think within certain limits you may have to make some tough decisions. It's a decision that not only affects you this year; it can affect you the next three to five years. You don't want to put yourself in the position of signing a player who's not going to be productive five years from now. You can't be real short-sighted," Wren said.

The philosophy may quickly be becoming a luxury. Wren said that trading prospects for major-league players has little appeal and vowed not to raid player development to address immediate needs.

"I don't think it's the proper thing for the organization to do. They've spent a number of years here in recent times trying to build up the prospect base. I'm not sure about trading one or two prospects away to get a player is the way to go. I think you're better served going to the free-agent market," Wren said.

Second base prospect Jerry Hairston has continued to open eyes at the Arizona Fall League but remains a year away, according to most within the organization. The next second baseman may also be employed as a leadoff hitter, a role poorly suited to rookies.

Though he has discussed a trade for New York Mets catcher Todd Hundley, Wren acknowledged yesterday that trading from last year's roster is equally difficult. The Orioles have only two trade-eligible players under contract -- Mike Bordick and Lenny Webster -- who received more than 300 at-bats last season. (Ripken and Brady Anderson must approve all deals because of service time.)

"It's like the boy putting his finger in the dike. You put your finger in one hole and then you have another hole," Wren said. "You've got to weigh all that. If you sign a free agent you fill a hole then go on to the next one."

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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