Meetings rush toward close without an Oriole opening


MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Orioles officials continue to work on several fronts in an attempt to solidify the club for 1992, but time is running out on the winter meetings.

Some clubs will begin pulling out tonight. Orioles general manager Roland Hemond is scheduled to leave early tomorrow. If something doesn't happen soon, he may have to go home empty-handed. Rule V draftees don't count.

Hemond came to the Fontainebleau Resort looking for pitching help, but the trip confirmed what the Orioles already suspected -- that the place to find a solid starting pitcher is the free-agent market. And that won't be easy, either.

Agent Marvin Demoff arrived in Miami Beach yesterday and was scheduled to meet with Orioles officials last night. Kirk McCaskill is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore for a face-to-face visit Monday. But the possibility of signing him may have diminished when the California Angels lost free agent Wally Joyner to the Kansas City Royals.

Senior vice president Whitey Herzog immediately set to work solidifying his starting rotation, adding a couple of million to the // money earmarked for Joyner and signing lefthander Chuck Finley to a four-year, $18.5 million contract yesterday. Now he has turned his attention to McCaskill and seems intent on keeping him in California.

"I hope to get McCaskill signed in the next day or two," said Herzog, who said the same thing about Finley a day earlier.

The situation could come to a head in the next 48 hours. The Orioles would figure to be a second choice if the Angels are serious about signing McCaskill quickly, but that remains to be seen.

Hemond also has shown interest in veteran pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who has told the Orioles that he would accept an incentive-laden one-year contract that calls for a lower base salary than the $2.176 million he earned in 1991. Free agents Ron Darling, Joe Hesketh and Bob Walk seem like less-likely possibilities.

Sutcliffe missed much of the past two seasons with a shoulder injury, but he pitched well enough down the stretch to raise hope that he can again be a dominant pitcher.

"The reason we would be interested in Sutcliffe is because he knows how to pitch and he has the experience and know-how that can help the younger pitchers on our staff," assistant GM Frank Robinson said yesterday. "The main thing is, is he healthy? The reports we've gotten say that he is."

If the Orioles don't appear to be doing anything at the meetings, appearances could be deceiving. Club president Larry Lucchino and counsel Lon Babby have been on site to work on contract negotiations with free agents and arbitration-eligible Orioles. Hemond has been working feverishly to make a deal.

He came very close to sending veteran catcher Bob Melvin and infielder Juan Bell to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitching prospect Andy Ashby and catcher Darrin Fletcher on Monday, then tried to move Melvin to the Houston Astros yesterday. In each case, his $900,000 salary was an obstacle.

The Orioles were expected to spend the convention shopping first baseman Randy Milligan, but Melvin was not surprised to hear that he was available for trade.

"It seemed like at the end of the year, they were trying to look toward some other things," he said by telephone from his home in Germantown, Tenn. "It didn't seem like I was in their plans."

But Melvin said he was not eager to leave the Orioles, even though his playing time diminished in the second half of last season.

"I'm basically very happy [in Baltimore]," he said. "Of course, I'd like to play more, but they haven't led me astray. They haven't said one thing to me and done another."

Nothing is imminent. The Orioles are under no pressure to get anything done in Florida. They left the winter meetings last year without making any significant acquisitions, but quickly signed Dwight Evans and eventually competed a deal for first baseman

Glenn Davis.

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