Cruz is out, but Orioles still swinging

Giants sign outfielder as Beattie raises hopes to get O's a hitter in trade

Others need to unload salaries

`We've got a few things floating out there'

Surhoff has interest in returning

January 29, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Still empty-handed in their efforts to improve a stagnant offense, the Orioles continued to explore trade options yesterday, as another one of their free-agent targets signed elsewhere.

The San Francisco Giants signed switch-hitting outfielder Jose Cruz to a one-year, $2.8 million contract with an option for 2004, outbidding the Orioles, who offered closer to $2 million.

Cruz joined Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees), Cliff Floyd (New York Mets) and Ivan Rodriguez (Florida Marlins) on the list of players who have received offers from the Orioles but signed elsewhere this offseason.

The Orioles, who scored the second-fewest runs in the American League last season, made it a major offseason priority to find at least one run-producing bat. Now that will almost certainly have to happen via trade.

"We've got a few things floating out there that are interesting," Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said. "My contention is that at some point, the money that teams say they have to move will have to be moved."

Beattie still contends that the Orioles are in position to improve the offense through a trade because they have money to spend on players other teams might be looking to unload, strictly for salary purposes.

Tampering restrictions prohibit club officials from commenting on other teams' players, but Orioles officials have privately ruled out two names that have floated on the trade market: Jeromy Burnitz and Ken Griffey.

The Orioles don't think Burnitz will be productive enough to justify even a portion of his $11.5 million salary, and Griffey is seen as too big of a risk with six years and $79 million still remaining on his contract.

A fan base starving for star power might be getting restless, but Beattie remains undeterred.

"I don't want to appear like we're not taking that into consideration," Beattie said. "But it's like Bobby Knight once said and [Toronto Blue Jays general manager] J.P. Ricciardi said recently, `If you're managing the way the guy in the stands wants you to manage, pretty soon you'll be joining that guy in the stands.' Because you have more information."

The Orioles are counting on having a healthy David Segui for spring training, and that in itself should be a boost for the offense. Segui, who is entering the third year of his four-year, $28 million deal, played in 26 games last season.

A switch-hitter with a lifetime .292 average, Segui had wrist surgery in May and never returned. But Beattie said it's his understanding that Segui has been able to swing the bat from both sides of the plate this offseason.

In other Orioles news:

B.J. Surhoff has expressed interest in returning to the club, and the Orioles plan to give him a look Friday at Camden Yards. Surhoff, who helped lead the Orioles to the American League Championship Series in 1996 and 1997, was traded to the Atlanta Braves in the 2000 salary purge and missed most of last season with a knee injury.

But Surhoff has recovered from surgery, and the Orioles might be able to sign him to an incentive-laced major-league contract, or even possibly a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.

"That's a low-risk thing," Beattie said. "You say we have a surplus there [in the outfield], but what if we had two or three injuries. [Surhoff] could come in and be more than a part-time player."

Hearing dates have been set in the event the Orioles can't reach an agreement with their four arbitration-eligible players. Jerry Hairston's hearing would be Feb. 12, B.J. Ryan's Feb. 14, Sidney Ponson's Feb. 18, and Melvin Mora's Feb. 19. Those would all take place in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Charlotte Knights, the Chicago White Sox's Triple-A affiliate, will honor Cal Ripken on April 3. Ripken will be in attendance for the ceremonies and throw out the first pitch before Charlotte's Opening Day game against the Richmond Braves at Knights Stadium.

Ripken played for Charlotte in 1979 and 1980 when it was affiliated with the Orioles, batting .266 with 28 homers and 86 RBIs in 161 games. He made the Southern League All-Star team as a third baseman in 1980.

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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