Baines gets Indian summer

In autumn of career, DH dealt by O's for 2 minor-league pitchers

August 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Consummating two days of intense talks 15 minutes before a 1 p.m. deadline, the Orioles yesterday provided Harold Baines the chance to achieve a career quest by trading the game's most prolific designated hitter to the Cleveland Indians for two minor-league pitchers.

The Orioles receive Single-A right-handed pitcher Juan Aracena and will acquire a second, more experienced pitcher by Oct. 4, according to Orioles general manager Frank Wren.

Wren and Indians general manager John Hart struck the deal two days after the Indians placed a waiver claim for Baines and starting pitcher Scott Erickson. Although Wren declined to address Erickson's availability, he acknowledged that the parties attempted to expand the deal before narrowing its focus to Baines. Before the July 31 waiver deadline, Wren had sought three players, including third base prospect Russell Branyan, in exchange for Erickson.

Had the teams not reached agreement by 1 p.m., Wren would have had to withdraw Baines from the waiver wire or lose him without compensation. Erickson was pulled back.

The pitcher to be named will come off the Indians' 40-man roster.

The deal, which marks the fifth time Baines has been traded during his 20-year major-league career, does not necessarily preclude the St. Michael's native from fulfilling a wish to end his career while playing for the Orioles. Baines is a pending free agent whom the Orioles will likely pursue after the season, leaving open the possibility of his third term with the club.

"This trade gives Harold an opportunity to play in the postseason again," Wren said. "At the same time, we received one young player and will receive another who can help us build for the future."

Aracena began the season with Columbus of the Single-A South Atlantic League before moving up to Kinston of the Single-A Carolina League, where he was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in five relief appearances. Because Kinston was playing the Orioles' Single-A affiliate in Frederick, Aracena could walk to his new team.

Baines, 40, is in the midst of a remarkable season that includes a career-high .322 batting average, as many home runs (24) as in any season since 1984, and a ratio of one RBI for every 4.2 at-bats. Part of his reward came last month when he was named to his sixth All-Star team and first since 1991. Baines' first half included a .345 average, 19 home runs and 63 of his 81 RBIs. Baines ranks 25th on the all-time RBI list (1,563), 41st in hits (2,761) and 43rd in home runs (372).

The Indians present Baines an opportunity to enjoy his first world championship. Baines gives the Indians' lineup an additional left-handed presence while center fielder Kenny Lofton remains on the disabled list, where he landed July 27. Indians manager Mike Hargrove said he expects Baines to play about five games a week in a rotation with Richie Sexson, David Justice and Jim Thome at DH.

Last night, in his first Cleveland at-bat, he singled off the wall in left-center, driving in the Indians' only runs in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Wren had discussed the possibility of a trade with Baines last month. Though happy to remain in Baltimore on an underachieving fourth-place club, Baines did not resist the idea of moving to a team certain to make the postseason. Wren described the soft-spoken hitter's reaction to the news as "as enthusiastic as Harold can be."

Hart said: "We were able to pick up a quality professional bat. Harold Baines is having a fabulous year, and it doesn't hurt that he hits left-handed, especially because of the injuries we have."

Baines has long been a favorite of Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, who was so outraged at his loss via free agency after the 1995 season that he prodded former general manager Pat Gillick to reacquire him in 1997. Baines validated the move by batting .300 in each of the past three seasons.

"Harold Baines is the type player you wish you had 25 of; that's the type person he is," Wren said.

Earlier this summer, Baines was rumored to be untouchable because of Angelos' resistance to dealing a player renowned for his quiet dignity as much as his production. But Wren said yesterday that Angelos had authorized a deal before the waiver deadline.

"In talking with ownership a couple times, the only hesitation we had was saying goodbye to a guy like Harold Baines. He's a fine person. The way we look at it is getting a couple of players made sense to the organization and the direction we wanted to go. Peter was actually very enthusiastic about continuing to stockpile young arms," Wren said.

Yesterday's deal further illustrates Wren's belief in acquiring an abundance of young pitchers who can serve the organization either with the major-league club or for use in future trades.

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