DALLAS -- Searching for the right climate, the Orioles landed here yesterday only to discover a hostile environment.
A "busy" day of talk, talk and more talk with numerous teams and agents suggested little promise for purchasing a quality starting pitcher, and these winter meetings have given no indication of becoming fertile trading ground. The Orioles technically remain alive for free-agent pitcher Kevin Appier, but their best opportunity increasingly appears to be dealing for a small-market arm.
The Orioles also appear to be leaning toward a pursuit of Mike Bordick over Alex Gonzalez as their short-term shortstop.
Thrift was scheduled to meet last night with Appier's agent, Jeff Borris, who also was negotiating with the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox. The Orioles modified their four-year offer to about $36 million on Friday, but have shown reluctance to discuss $10 million per season.
Having failed to land relievers Turk Wendell, Tom Gordon or Jeff Nelson, the Orioles now survey a weakened free-agent field that offers few alternatives more attractive than their own system. Thrift rattled off several names of possible organizational candidates -- Leslie Brea, Mark Nussbeck and Calvin Maduro -- who might vie for a relief role. With Chuck McElroy projected as a starter next season, the Orioles are looking at a bullpen of Ryan Kohlmeier, B.J. Ryan, Mike Trombley, Buddy Groom, Jason Johnson and Alan Mills.
Thrift reiterated the club will not overpay for free agents. Given the universally held perception of the Orioles as a rebuilding team, that would suggest a greater likelihood of a trade for a pitcher than a signing.
"We're discussing a great number of possibilities," Thrift said. "But we have to consider whether we have alternatives that are just as good within our system while also remaining careful not to block [prospects]."
Thrift suggested last week that completing a trade might prove more workable than obtaining a free agent. Thrift even quipped last night that some teams have treated the Orioles' bids like "Confederate money" and appears determined to construct a package for a starting pitcher.
Significant interest exists for Dustin Hermanson, whose contract has become a challenge to the Expos' small payroll. Signed through 2002, Hermanson is due to make $5 million next season and $5.5 million in 2002. The contract includes a club option for $7.5 million for 2003.
Hermanson, 28, could challenge for ace status with the Orioles' current rotation. In return, Thrift might package a pair of minor-league pitchers along with an infielder, perhaps Ryan Minor.
The search doesn't stop there. Discussions with the Texas Rangers have centered on starting pitcher Brian Sikorski and left-hander Matt Perisho. Hopeful of adding a free agent to their roster before tomorrow's Rule 5 draft, the Rangers would rather trade a pitcher than risk exposing him to a waiver claim as their major-league roster stands at the 40-man limit. The Rangers are believed to have limited interest in Jason Johnson.
The Orioles face a more crowded field for Gonzalez than Bordick. As a result, they not only would have to commit more money, but more years to a position they envision handing over to prospect Ed Rogers by 2003.
"We're looking for a shortstop for one or two years," said Thrift. "Four years puts it under another light."
Gonzalez, 26, is pursuing a four-year deal while Bordick is expected to sign a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third. Gonzalez's quest for more than $6 million a season also puts him in a steeper financial class than Bordick. Thrift called the team's interest in free-agent first baseman David Segui "mild."
Thrift met with Gonzalez's agent, Jim Bronner, without tendering an offer. The Orioles have also yet to bid for Bordick, but might move quickly to parry serious interest by the Seattle Mariners.
Rather than wait on Rodriguez, the Mariners are prepared to bid for Bordick with the understanding that he would move to second base if Rodriguez returns.
Bordick also represents a possible salve for an Orioles organization buffeted by negative fan reaction following the loss of free-agent pitcher Mike Mussina to the New York Yankees. Bordick lives in Ruxton and his July 28 trade to the New York Mets for a three-player package was among the moves most criticized by fans during last summer's clubhouse purge.