Orioles cut Webster loose

Unable to make trade, club designates catcher for assignment

July 17, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Unable to finalize a trade over the last six weeks, the Orioles designated Lenny Webster for assignment yesterday, eliminating both halves of last year's catching tandem with the possibility of getting nothing in return.

Coming after the late-March release of Chris Hoiles, the Orioles have 10 days to deal Webster or allow him to become a free agent. General manager Frank Wren remains in contact with other clubs, most prominently the Pittsburgh Pirates, but hasn't been able to pry away a suitable minor-league prospect.

"We felt like there was nothing we could do today, so this gives us another week to do something with the contract," Wren said. "We haven't been real aggressive in what we've asked for. We just wanted to get what was fair."

Webster, 34, packed his belongings in a large box yesterday with plans to return to his Georgia home. He had conceded in recent weeks that his days in Baltimore were drawing to a close, but still had to grapple with yesterday's news.

"It's something I've expected. I've known what's going on because Frank's been pretty good about the whole thing. Trades have just been falling through. Nobody's wanted to budge. It's like, `Do I trade a couple players for this guy or do I take a chance and wait a few days when I can get him for little or nothing?' But these things have a way of working themselves out," he said.

"It's sad for me to leave right now. I love this club, I love playing for the Orioles, I love this stadium. The fans are outstanding. But I've done this before."

The Orioles were Webster's fourth club, and in some ways his most rewarding. Long ago relegated to backup status, he established career highs in seven categories last year, including games (108), at-bats (309), homers (10) and RBIs (46) while filling in for an injured Hoiles.

The winter acquisition of four-time Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson assured that Webster's playing time would be reduced significantly. He requested a trade this spring, then appeared in only 16 games before going on the disabled list retroactive to May 12 with a strained tendon in his right ankle. He went on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Rochester but never was activated, leaving him frustrated and confused over his lost standing.

"I don't know if this move is from an evaluation standpoint, if they're thinking I got hurt and can't play anymore. Some of it is hard for me to understand," said Webster, who is earning $755,000 in the last year of a contract he signed in November 1997.

"Is it a question of whether I can contribute to this team or is it, `We just want to move him because he's not happy?' I don't know, but that's the move that's been made and I have to deal with it from a personal standpoint as well as a professional standpoint."

Wren said the club's decision is connected to the arrival of catcher Mike Figga, 28, who was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees on June 3. Figga would have to pass through waivers before being sent to the minors, a gamble the Orioles aren't willing to take.

"When you go out for six weeks injured, things happen, and during that time we were able to acquire Mike Figga," Wren said. "And in our minds, he fills that role very well. If Lenny had not gotten injured, we probably wouldn't have found ourselves in this position. It's unfortunate, but he got injured and we found someone we liked a little better."

Miller described yesterday's transaction as "very difficult."

"I was very close to Lenny, and still am. Frank's worked diligently with Lenny every day for the last 10 days and I'm sure there are still some things going on. you can't just keep him in limbo forever."

As for the departures of both Hoiles and Webster, Miller said, "They're two of the classiest people you'll ever want to be around. People forget we went wire-to-wire with them catching basically 60-40 in '97. But you have to start thinking a little bit about the future Mike Figga's got a high side to him age-wise, and he catches and receives well."

Webster's stats

Lenny Webster's career statistics with the Orioles.

Yr. Avg. AB H HR RBI BB SO

'97 .255 259 66 7 37 22 46

'98 .285 309 88 10 46 15 38

'99 .167 36 6 0 3 8 5

.265 604 160 17 86 45 89

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