Avery among those left

Orioles' Thrift inquires about ex-Braves lefty, who was 6-7 with Reds

January 15, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Resuming his search for another starting pitcher after two days of travel, Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift held discussions yesterday with agent Scott Boras, whose client list includes left-hander Steve Avery.

A former first-round pick, Avery would fill out the back end of the rotation while again trying to re-establish himself as an effective starter. He pitched with the Cincinnati Reds last year, going 6-7 with a 5.16 ERA in 19 games.

"What we're doing is, we're working with diligence, we're working with concern over making the right decisions, not to just do something," said Thrift, who wouldn't discuss Avery specifically but confirmed talks with Boras.

"We've got to make sure whoever we talk to has a reasonable chance to make a contribution here in the year 2000."

Club officials had other business to attend to yesterday. The Orioles avoided arbitration with reliever Al Reyes by agreeing on a one-year, $620,000 deal. Catcher Charles Johnson, another Boras client, filed for arbitration after batting .251 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs in his first season in Baltimore. The two sides will exchange figures on Tuesday.

Johnson earned $3.6 million last season. He had gone to arbitration last January after being acquired by the Orioles in a three-team trade. Seeking $5.1 million, Johnson had to settle for a $300,000 raise.

Thrift continues to rummage through the remaining pile of free-agent pitchers after Darren Oliver and Steve Trachsel signed with other clubs this week. Oliver, who's also represented by Boras, got a three-year, $18 million deal with the Texas Rangers, and Trachsel accepted a one-year, $1 million offer from Tampa Bay that was loaded with incentives.

Trachsel's agent, Alan Meersand, had faxed three proposals to Thrift and majority owner Peter Angelos. "We just decided to go in a different direction. We decided to pass," Thrift said.

Avery twice won 18 games with the Atlanta Braves, most recently in 1993, when he went 18-6 with a 2.94 ERA in 35 starts. After going 8-3 the following season, he didn't win more than seven games until posting a 10-7 record with the Boston Red Sox in 1998.

By then, the Michigan native had been transformed from a power pitcher who could reach 93 mph to more of a finesse artist with a fastball in the mid-80s -- the result of weakness in his left shoulder.

Avery, who turns 30 in April, would provide the Orioles with their only left-handed starter and most likely would accept a one-year offer.

After having surgery in July to clean up his left shoulder, Avery has told Boras this is the best he's felt in terms of velocity in four years. The Orioles would proceed with caution, having sought to restructure a four-year, $29 million deal with Aaron Sele after a physical on Jan. 7 revealed moderate wear and tear in his right shoulder. Three days later, Sele signed a two-year, $15 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Hideo Nomo, who resurrected his career with Milwaukee last season, is also among the more favorable pitching options. But he too doesn't come without risks.

Reports of a tired arm while with the Los Angeles Dodgers accompanied his fall from one of the National League's most prolific strikeout artists to a pitcher who was released twice last spring. The Brewers picked him up, and Nomo elevated his stock by going 12-8.

Veterans Pat Rapp, John Burkett, Donovan Osborne and Bobby Witt also are available, but Thrift repeated yesterday that the club might already have found a solution in Jose Mercedes, who is bringing glowing reports from the Dominican Republic after being signed from Milwaukee's organization.

Mercedes, who turns 29 in March, spent parts of five seasons in the majors after being snatched from the Orioles' farm system in the Rule 5 draft in 1993. Last year, he pitched for three clubs at the Triple-A level. Mercedes, who was 11-15 with a 4.54 ERA in Milwaukee, is reaching 94 mph with his fastball and complementing it with good breaking stuff.

Another right-hander, Calvin Maduro, led Triple-A Rochester with 11 wins last season and ranked second in the International League with 149 strikeouts. He also had a 3.99 ERA, among the lowest in the league, and has continued to pitch well this winter.

Club officials are leaving open the possibility of re-signing left-hander Doug Johns, who went non-tendered but was 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA in four starts between Aug. 27 and Sept. 11. He was given one year's supervised probation last week, related to an April 5 arrest on charges of marijuana possession and driving while intoxicated.

"Everybody's a candidate who can pitch good, once they get on the mound and make the team. That's the great thing about baseball. They have to make it," Thrift said.

"We're talking to several people. It could be either A, B, C, or none of the above. Now, the way things look, D is becoming more prominent than ever."

Orioles tickets

Individual game tickets for the Orioles 2000 season go on sale at the Orioles Box Office at Camden Yards at 10 a.m. today.

Tickets will be on sale until 5 p.m. today and again from noon to 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Orioles Box Office. Tickets also may be purchased at the Orioles Official Team Stores in Washington and York, Pa., through Ticketmaster Phone Charge and at all Ticketmaster outlets, including Hechts stores.

Ticketmaster Phone Charge will accept ticket orders today from 10 a.m. to 9: 30 p.m. at 1-888-848-BIRD. Tickets also can be purchased via the Orioles' Internet site www.TheOrioles.com.

Today, fans can purchase a maximum of eight tickets for as many as eight games. Beginning tomorrow, ticket purchases will not be limited.

For more information, call 410-685-9800.

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